February 28, 2024

Gin and bear it

A parable of media hype

Are you feeling guilty? You ought to be if you like your gin and tonic. For according to the headlines, “Gin lovers are all massive psychopaths, according to experts”. Mind that word “massive”. Take a good look in the mirror. Right now.

The article has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook.

However, this is a great example of the synergy of publicity-hungry scientists and clickbait journalism. Our story begins in Austria, at the University of Innsbruck. Two researchers in social psychology published an article in the journal Appetite titled “Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits”.

It would be unfair to heap all the blame on yellow journalism. The article’s abstract says that two studies indicated that “that bitter taste preferences are positively associated with malevolent personality traits, with the most robust relation to everyday sadism and psychopathy” and demonstrated “a robust relation between increased enjoyment of bitter foods and heightened sadistic proclivities”.

The authors did not mention gin and tonic, but it did not require much imagination on the journalist’s part to find an example of a bitter drink. The popularity of bitter beverages like coffee and beer – overlooked by the Austrian researchers — suggests that the world is swarming with psychopaths.  

So it’s hard to know of which we should be more suspicious: journalists, social psychologists or the publish-or-perish imperative. 

Creative commons
media ethics
media hype
research ethics
social psychology