MASINDI, KENYA--A group of researchers from Kenya have made a new discovery that suggests that the effects of alcohol on human behavior may be entirely psychological. In the study, the scientists compared two different groups--American college students and members of a small village in northwest Kenya called Masindi, where they produce the majority of the country’s largest export, banana beer.
The community has been producing the beer--which is made by fermenting bananas and sorghum in a deep, earthen trench--for hundreds of years. Scientists noticed that despite the massive quantities of the substance consumed in the village (children begin drinking it as soon as they are weaned off breast milk) it does not seem to have the same effect on their behavior as seen in other groups of individuals, particularly in the United States.
It has long been understood that alcohol affects the central nervous system, acting as a depressant and causing a lack of inhibition, sluggishness, and a host of other mental and physical effects.
"When we began studying the people in Masindi, we noticed how different, especially from westerners, their physical and emotional reactions were to the alcohol,” said researcher Amos Wako. “We really wanted to investigate what factors influenced those differences in behavior.”
For the study, the scientists compared a group of American college students, aged 18 to 22 with a group of Masindi villagers of the same age. The scientists created a mock social setting, providing music, a dance floor, and a make-shift bar. Both groups were provided with as much free banana beer as they wanted over the course of three hours while researchers watched and recorded their behavior.
“It was shocking because after about two or three beers, the American girls began to gyrate maniacally on the dance floor. Although we chose popular music from their country, they did not seem to be dancing as their movements did not follow the rhythm of the music. We can conclude that the beer caused them to have a series of mini, self-induced seizures,” said Wako.
While the men and women from the village interacted with each other throughout the course of the night, playing cards, telling stories and generally being social, the researchers noticed a very different dynamic between the American men and women. Men and women--who did not know each other before the study--stayed in separate sections of the bar. At points throughout the night, one man would walk over to the women’s side and begin to talk to one of them. Inevitably, it would appear as if both parties became more affected by the alcohol just by speaking to each other.
We definitely noticed a change in behavior on the part of the males as they spoke to the women,” said Wako. “They would take enormous sips of their beer, often finishing the whole bottle in 3 or 4 minutes, and then they would smash it down on the ground in an aggressive way. This seemed to excite the females very much.”
As the evening progressed, the Masindi group got up to dance. Researchers weren’t sure if this was an effect of the alcohol or just that they had become more comfortable in the social setting. But Akimba Kilonzo, a female participant from the Masindi group insists that it’s customary to wait a while to begin dancing.
“We never, ever dance right away at a party,” said Kilonzo. “we always wait until the sun sets at least. It’s better if you are not seen winding and grinding with men during the daytime,” said Kilonzo.
While the Masindi group averaged about 57 beers per person over the course of three hours, the Americans came in at about 6 each. The large disparity in consumption was not evidenced by the behavior of these two distinct groups.
We were really, really shocked,” said Wako. “We did not know it was possible to consume that many drinks per hour and not expire, but the stark differences in behavior between the two groups have led us to conclude that alcohol has no physical effects whatsoever on individuals. We would like to conduct further experiments on the biological differences of the Americans, but it is our hypothesis that their behavior stems from larger emotional or social issues that we just do not have the resources to investigate at this point.”
Interviewed about her experiences shortly after the study was over, Lindsey Johnson, an American participant said, “Holy f***k, that was awesome!”