16th April, 2013 by Andy Young
A study by researchers at Indiana University has found that the taste of beer releases a chemical in the brain which makes people want to drink more.
The study found that beer’s taste, without any effect from alcohol, can trigger the brain to produce dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward and pleasure centres.
Dr David Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Centre, said: “We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centres.”
People with a family history of alcoholism also showed even higher levels of dopamine which, Dr Kareken added, may suggest that the risk of alcoholism could be inherited.
During the study researchers scanned the brains of 49 men while they tasted beer and then when they tasted the sports drink Gatorade. Each man was given just 15ml of their preferred beer over a 15-minute period, so they would not feel the effects of alcohol.
The results revealed significantly more dopamine activity when tasting beer than when tasting Gatorade. The respondents also said that after tasting the beer they craved more, but did not feel the same about the sports drink, even though many said it tasted better.
Dai Stephens, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Sussex, said the paper was “a first convincing demonstration in humans that a drink’s flavour has such effects on the brain.”
But he told the Press Association: “While suggestive, the findings cannot with certainty be ascribed to conditioning. However, more provocatively, the study also suggests that not all beer drinkers show the same effect.”
The study, carried out by Dr Brandon Oberlin and five others from the Indiana University School of Medicine, was published in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal.