Can a Glass of Wine Lead to Increased Consciousness?

A team of researchers surveyed wine bar guests and explored how a glass of red wine may increase awareness and pleasure

Can a Glass of Wine Lead to Increased Consciousness?
Hanging out at a wine bar can help us catch up with friends and relax. But researchers found that it can also raise our state of consciousness for the better. (Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Nov 16, 2021

We all know that a glass of wine can impact our mood, whether it relaxes us at the end of the day, or increases our pleasure while drinking with friends while out on the town. But can it improve awareness of body, space and time? Researchers at the University of Lisbon in Portugal recently performed a study that found that wine drinkers in a bar-type setting experienced increased consciousness, or a greater awareness of the present moment.

The study, published in Plos One, surveyed 102 participants from all over the world about their experience after drinking two glasses of wine at Corkscrew Wine Bar, located in an area of Lisbon popular with tourists. Lead researcher Dr. Rui Miguel Costa recruited participants visiting the bar and invited them to participate in an investigation of how moderate red wine consumption causes changes in consciousness.

Of the 102 participants, just over half were women and the mean age was 35. Those who participated were offered two glasses of 2018 Quinta da Lapa Reserva Syrah, from Portugal's Tejo region. Costa says he allowed Corkscrew's sommeliers to select the wine for the experiment. He adds that they chose the wine because of its silky, full-bodied characteristics that are "appreciated by a majority of people."

Before drinking, participants filled out a questionnaire describing relative awareness of themselves and their surroundings. After consuming their second glass of wine, participants filled out the same questionnaire.

As the researchers write in their study, "Altered states of consciousness refer to substantial deviations from the habitual waking consciousness. Among the common human needs, there is search for pleasant altered states of consciousness, that is, a temporary joyful transcendence of the ordinary mental state. The balanced consumption of wine can be a means to such joys, one that is deeply ingrained in many human cultures since time immemorial."

Costa and his colleagues analyzed the questionnaire results using the Altered States of Consciousness Rating Scale, which aims to measure substantial deviations from habitual waking consciousness, including increased arousal or pleasure, intensity of awareness of the body, of time and insightfulness. Participants were not allowed to drink other beverages, aside from water, and there was no time limit on how quickly or slowly they drank. They were also not allowed to use smartphones or watches, due to interference with time perception.

In order to maintain a naturalistic setting, participants were separated into three conditions based on how they arrived at the bar: drinking alone, drinking in pairs or drinking in a group of three to six people. There was no control group in this experiment—participants who didn't drink alcohol—because, Costa says, that would have interfered with the naturalistic design by being unfeasible or highly artificial.

"We initially considered having a control group drinking a non-alcoholic beverage, but we could not easily find someone willing to be in that condition," Costa told Wine Spectator. "We realized that to be in the wine bar drinking a non-alcoholic beverage would be an annoying experience for most people. Thus, it is unlikely that the environment of the bar in itself is able to cause the pleasant changes in consciousness we observed."

The results showed that participants experienced improved mood and increased arousal, a diminished awareness of time and increased reports of time passing slower. There were also no significant differences between sexes or size of group.

The researchers found that age correlated directly with increases in pleasure, meaning older participants reported greater increases of pleasure while drinking red wine, whereas younger participants reported a greater fascination in the environment they were drinking in. These results were based on questionnaire scores that were compared before and after the experiment.

Costa attributes part of these results to certain biological mechanisms alcohol induces. For example, ethanol, the kind of alcohol in beverages, is a sedative that may slow your perception of time, and it also triggers small dopamine releases that may affect pleasure and arousal.

Although this is one of the first studies to explore positive changes in consciousness after a moderate dose of red wine, Costa believes his results need to be replicated again and again, and should examine potential confounders such as background music and food. But perhaps the biggest limitation is no control group, which Costa hopes to address in the future.

"We believe that the appreciation of red wine can be increased by deepening the understanding of its effects on the mind," Costa said. "The inclusion of a control condition is unlikely to have changed the results, but we would include it in our next study."


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