So, you’re at a job interview dinner and the interviewer orders a glass of the house Merlot. You should order:

a) the same

b) a Coke

If you answered b) a Coke, you’ve got a better chance of getting the job than the rest of us, according to a new study (found via Reuters). I totally would have ordered the wine, and my only concern would have been looking rude by asking to see a wine list and ordering something better than the Merlot. I would have been wrong, apparently.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania found that an association with alcohol caused observers to “expect cognitive impairment” in a job seeker. This bias has been dubbed the “Imbibing Idiot Bias” by the study authors. That’s actually the title of the paper, “The Imbibing Idiot Bias: Merely Holding an Alcoholic Beverage Can be Hazardous to Your (Perceived) Intelligence.” Yikes.

Across a series of six experiments, Scott Rick and Maurice Schweizer found that people think you’re dumber when you drink – even if they’re drinking themselves.

In one of the experiments, 610 “mid-level managers” whose occupational roles were either Director, Manager, or Assistant Manager at US companies, were asked to evaluate the text dialogue of an interview, held over dinner, accompanied by photos of the interview.

The script was the same but, “We varied the manager’s drink choice (Coke or a glass of the house Merlot) and the candidate’s drink choice (Coke or a glass of the house Merlot).”

Regardless of what the manager ordered, drinkers were seen as not so smart. Candidates who ordered wine after the manager ordered a Coke were “especially punished” with low ratings for perceived intelligence.

“Job candidates who ordered an alcoholic beverage in simulated interviews were perceived as less intelligent and less hireable than those who did not, even when the boss had ordered an alcoholic beverage first. In a sixth experiment, we demonstrate that job candidates fail to anticipate that ordering an alcoholic beverage will reduce their perceived intelligence.”

They also found (in one of the other experiments, I think – it’s a long paper) that the bias persisted when the observer knew that the person had not chosen the beverage themselves.

I’m suspicious of these findings — If you order a Coke at dinner with me, unless we’re at some mock 50s diner, I’m going to think you’re either pregnant or from a small town (I admit I have weird food and drink-related snobberies. I’m not proud of it) – and think they’re probably specific to North America, as opposed to Europe. And if they prove anything, it’s that we (by which I mean THEY) are both deeply parochial and deeply hypocritical.

But that opinion isn’t going to get you a job. So, at least now you know. Make of it what you will. I’m going to have a cocktail.

See the entire paper here.