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Fake news alert - Evening Standard "Love drinking gin and tonic? You could be a psychopath, research suggests"

Gin and tonic

Another piece of dodgy journalism caught my eye on Twitter referring to an article by the Evening Standard published in April by Liz Connor. Similar articles about Gin are scattered all over social media implying if you love your G&T you are either a psychopath or potentially a psychopath!

Norman bates psycho

The article says:

Gin and tonic is a lot like Marmite - many of us can’t stand the bitter taste, while others swear by its refreshingly boozy properties.

Now psychologists are saying that a particular liking for bitter-tasting food and drinks, like a G&T, means you could have psychopathic tendencies. 

Researchers found that those who opted for drinks like coffee and tonic water were more likely to exhibit signs of Machiavellianism, sadism and narcissism. 

That is, they were more prone to being duplicitous, cold-hearted and lacking in empathy, vain and selfish, and more likely to derive pleasure from other people's pain.

Does enjoying Gin and Tonic really mean you a psychopath?

Let's look in detail at the source of this story which is research from the University of Innsbruck. Are Gin drinkers all potential psychos?

Across two studies the researchers in Austria looked at connection between someone's bitter taste preferences and antisocial personality traits including being a psycho -  "Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits" by Christina Sagioglou, Tobias Greitemeyer, January 2016

What most people don't realise is that psychopathy is a spectrum like many other psychiatric issues including Asperger's, Schizophrenia and so on. Most believe that the disorder is typified by Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lector or Norman Bates in Psycho. However psychopathy is  actually "a personality trait that falls along a continuum, with those at the extreme end characterised by superficial charm, callousness, and a lack of empathy".

the dark triad

The researchers measured psychopathy using a brief personality measure that assesses something called the "dark triad". Sounds scary! These are three socially undesirable personality traits - Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism:

  • Machiavellianism: a personality trait which sees a person so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals.
  • Narcissism: extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterising a personality type.
  • Psychopathy: personality disorder characterised by persistent antisocial behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits.

Participants indicated their agreement with statements such as “I tend to be callous or insensitive” and “I tend to lack remorse” and then this data was calibrated to create a score for psychopathy. Then individuals preferences for bitter food and drink was assessed. Participants were given a list of bitter foods and drinks (e.g. beer, coffee) and were asked to rate them from 1 (dislike strongly) to 6 (like strongly). These scores were averaged to create an overall measure of bitter taste preferences. Participants in the study were also asked to rate their liking for bitter foods and drinks in general. 

The Innsbruck research - does Gin drinking actually mean you have psychopathy?

So now to the important bit. The researchers at the University of Innsbruck reported no significant relationship between psychopathy scores and participants’ preference scores for the specific bitter foods and drinks. So people with high psychopathy scores did not show a particular liking for the bitter foods and drinks they were shown.

But interestingly, there was a weak correlation between psychopathy scores and general preference for bitterness. In other words people with psychopathic tendencies at the more severe end of the spectrum prefer eating or drinking bitter things in general.

Most critically thought there was no specific mention of gin in the study at all and there was no evidence that someone's preference for certain drinks like coffee or gin & tonic has any direct link with psychopathy. 

So psychos may be more likely to like bitter foods and drinks in general, but the story that G&T drinking means you are a psychopath is just complete fake news! So don't worry whilst you're having a Sipsmith and your Fever Tree tonic, you're probably not a psycho!