They say that if you want to cut back on calories, one easy tip is downsizing your dinnerware: Choose a smaller plate to trick your brain into thinking you’re eating a larger portion. The same principle, it seems, may apply, too, to switching up the kind of glass you drink alcohol out of.
A recent study from the University of Bristol’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, in the UK, found that drinking beer in a straight-sided glass versus one with curved sides (like a traditional pilsner glass) can help people drink at a slower rate. “People judge the midpoint of the curved glass as lower down the glass than it actually is,” explains David Troy, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, who didn’t work on the original study but has led related research. Translation? “People will overestimate how much is [left] in the [curved] glass. This in turn may speed up drinking rates as individuals think they haven’t drunk very much.”
Conversely, continues Troy, when we use height to judge the midpoint of a straight glass, we’re pretty accurate. “The height midpoint and volume midpoint will be the same or very similar” for a straight glass, he says.
The study, which was funded by Alcohol Research UK, was conducted in the hope of finding new ways to curb excessive drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S., alcohol abuse led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost annually between 2006 and 2010.
Straight vs. Curved
The University of Bristol researchers recruited about 80 men who drank between 10 to 50 units of alcohol per week and about the same number of women, who drank between five and 35 units per week. None had a history of problems with alcohol. Participants were randomly split into several groups in which they drank a soft drink or a beer (lager); drank a half-full glass or a full glass; and/or drank from a straight glass or a curved glass. Participants were 60% slower to consume the beer when it was poured into a straight glass.
Those drinking from a full, straight-sided beer glass consumed their drink in about 11.4 minutes, while the group served a full glass of beer in a curved glass took an average of 7.2 minutes to finish. Interestingly, however, straight glasses didn’t translate to slower drinking times for the non-alcoholic beverage. “We speculate that this may be because people tend only to pace their drinking speeds when consuming alcoholic drinks, and therefore perception of volume is more important for alcohol beverages,” says Troy.
What Other Research Finds
In a follow-up study, in which Troy was the lead researcher, volume markers were added to glasses to encourage people to drink at a slower pace. Participants were randomly split into two groups: One-half was served beer in curved glasses with one-quarter, one-half and three-quarter markings. The other group drank out of curved glasses without markings. The group with marked glasses consumed the drink in roughly 10.3 minutes, while the people with unmarked glasses took about 9.1 minutes to finish their beer.
Troy and his colleagues also tested their theory about alcohol consumption speeds and glasses in a real-world setting — at three pubs over two weekends. When customers were served out of straight-sided glasses, the pubs noted less overall consumption and slower drinking times.
So what lesson can someone who wants to better monitor their own drinking, or that of a loved one, take from this research? “These measures at attempting to reduce alcohol consumption do not substitute for professional help,” says Troy, adding that more research on this question needs to be done. “I would strongly urge people who are concerned [about alcohol consumption] to contact their general practitioner, a health professional working in the addiction field or one of the many alcohol charities for help and advice.”