Decision Making In Ancient Persia: Drunk And Sober


Have a big decision to make? Take a page out of the ancient Persians’ book and mull it over a glass (or bottle) of wine.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the ancient Persians would deliberate over their most important matters when they were drunk. The following day they would take another look at their decisions while sober.

If they happened to make a decision for the very first time when they were sober, they would follow it up with another deliberation after ingesting some alcoholic beverages.

If their decision while sober did not match their decision while drunk, the Persians would throw out the whole argument and go back to square one. Conversely, if their drunk decision didn’t match their sober deliberation, then they would do the same.

As humorous as this may sound, it’s very common for people to make decisions while intoxicated. It’s the reconsideration (often regret) while sober that is usually missing.

Does it work?

According to best-selling economist Dan Ariely, the Persians may have been on to something. In his book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, he refers to emotionally charged moments as “hot” states. These occur when a major change or influence is added into the decision making process.

Ariely argues that people in “hot” states tend to make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t normally. He performed several experiments where subjects in a “cold” state predicted their responses to a series of questions and moral scenarios.

The same questions were then asked during a state of sexual arousal. The results?

Ariely said, “The conclusions were consistent and clear—overwhelmingly clear, frighteningly clear.” Every subject responded very differently when in hot versus cold states. The participants were even unable to correctly predict how being aroused would change them.

People have been getting drunk and arguing for years, how is this different?

The ancient Persians were likely just confirming reality by mandating alcohol-induced hot state decision making.

But what they got so right was following up an argument during a state of emotional arousal with subsequent deliberation during a cold state.

So the next time you need to make an important decision, remember that in vino veritas (Latin for “in wine, truth”).