It was Rachel Winograd, at the University of Missouri, who first came up with these four distinct types of drunk, as she started exploring the way that alcohol can alter our character.
Existing experiments, she says, had looked at the way that alcohol influences clear-cut measures, like reaction time or self-control – but never the messier question of personality. “We all talk about the ways that people are so different when drunk – the ‘good’ drunks or ‘bad’ drunks – but there was this gap in the scientific literature.”
This is despite a long interest in the transformative effects of booze: an Elizabethan satirist, for instance, named eight types of drunk after different species of animals, including the “ape drunk” who “leaps and sings and hollows and danceth for the heavens”, the swine drunk who is “heavy, lumpish and sleepy”, and the “goat drunk” who “hath no mind but on lechery”. Yet psychologists hadn’t put the idea to the test.
So Winograd invited a few hundred students to bring along a drinking buddy to her lab. There, they were asked to answer detailed personality questionnaires about how they perceived themselves, and their friend, when both sober, and drunk. Through this, she could examine the change in traits characteristics such as conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness.
Winograd and her supervisor then analysed their answers to pick out certain clusters of behavioural characteristics, finding four distinct types of drunk in total, which they named according to popular cultural icons.
Ernest Hemingway, who, like the writer, retain their intellect and rationality and generally change very little when drunk.
Mary Poppins, the cheery, agreeable drunk who remains responsible throughout the night.
The Nutty Professor, who starts out as an introvert but suddenly becomes more outgoing (and even a little risky) with some Dutch courage.
Mr Hyde, the “mean” drunk who becomes less agreeable, less conscientious, and more irresponsible the more they consume.
Interestingly, most people were Ernest Hemingway, while just 15% were Mary Poppins. Our quiz has tried to capture the essence of these findings, but it was written purely for entertainment, and shouldn’t be read as a scientific assessment of your drinking habits.
Although her labels for the different personality types may sound frivolous, Winograd hopes that appealing to popular culture will help her research reach a broader audience. “We weren’t naïve enough to think it fully captures all the nuances,” she says, “but it’s something that is easy to understand and that people might recognise and apply to themselves or their family when interpreting the research.”
There was only a modest agreement between the drinking buddies’ ratings of each other. One possibility is that our beer goggles lead us to paint a rosier picture of ourselves than our friends see; alternatively, it could be that we are simply better at perceiving the changes in ourselves – whether we feel shy or confident, for instance – that our friends miss. It would also be interesting to see how people’s drunkenness changes in different situations; it’s perfectly possible you may be The Nutty Professor one night and Mr Hyde the next. To resolve these issues, Winograd is working on experiments that will film students getting a little tipsy, so that independent experts can analyse their behaviour.
In the meantime, she hopes her work will at least help us all think a little bit more analytically about our drinking and any problems it may bring. “It could trigger conversations that might start out light-hearted, but may have a clinical impact if someone realises that maybe people don’t like being around them as much as they thought they did.” Whether you are Mr Hyde or Mary Poppins, we could all raise a glass to that.