Alcohol is a social lubricant, study confirms

July 30, 2012
Alcohol is a social lubricant, study confirms
Moderate boozing encourages 'true smiles' and group engagement.

(HealthDay) -- You've seen those commercials with fun-loving people sharing a laugh over a cold brew. Now, a new study lends scientific support to the notion of alcohol as a social icebreaker.

Researchers found that drinking moderate amounts of in a group setting boosts people's emotions and enhances social bonding.

The study also found that moderate consumption of alcohol can minimize -- or at least reduce displays such as being silent in a group or making faces with wrinkled noses or pursed lips.

In the study, published recently in the journal , researchers randomly assigned 720 men and women to groups of three people who didn't know one another. They said previous studies have focused on alcohol's effect on individuals.

"We felt that many of the most significant would more likely be revealed in an experiment using a social setting," study author Michael Sayette, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a journal news release.

In total, 20 groups were formed consisting of every combination of genders. Each group was assigned one of the following scenarios: drink an , drink a placebo beverage or drink a nonalcoholic control beverage.

The alcoholic beverage contained one part vodka and 3.5 parts cranberry-juice cocktail, with a lower dose of vodka for women. To make placebo beverages more credible, glasses were smeared with .

While seated at a round table, the participants drank three of their assigned beverages over the course of 36 minutes.

Group drinking sessions were videotaped so the researchers could analyze individual and group interactions frame by frame for facial action and group speech behavior.

Alcohol fueled social bonding and increased the amount of time people spent talking to one another. It also increased the frequency and enhanced the coordination of "true" smiles, the researchers said: All three members of the groups drinking alcohol were more likely to smile at the same time than the other groups.

Imbibers also were more likely to have all three members stay engaged in the group discussion.

Alcohol affected how strongly participants agreed with survey statements such as, "I like this group" and "the members of this group are interested in what I have to say."

[From these results], "we can begin to ask questions of great interest to alcohol researchers: Why does alcohol make us feel better in group settings? Is there evidence to suggest a particular participant may be vulnerable to developing a problem with alcohol?" Sayette said.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Explore further: Drinking energy beverages mixed with alcohol may be riskier than drinking alcohol alone

More information:
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about alcohol.

Related Stories

Heredity behind subjective effects of alcohol

May 23, 2011

Scientists have long known that people who have a close relative with alcohol problems themselves run an increased risk of starting to abuse alcohol. The reason for this has not been known, but a new study from the University ...

Recommended for you

Men more likely to be seen as 'creative thinkers'

September 28, 2015

People tend to associate the ability to think creatively with stereotypical masculine qualities, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings ...

Babies time their smiles to make their moms smile in return

September 23, 2015

Why do babies smile when they interact with their parents? Could their smiles have a purpose? In the Sept. 23 issue of PLOS ONE, a team of computer scientists, roboticists and developmental psychologists confirm what most ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 01, 2012
The effect of alcohol is on the gonadotropin-releasing hormone neuronal (GnRH) system as is the effect of food odors and social odors called pheromones. Knowing how receptor-mediated effects on hormones alter behavior controlled by the gonadotropin-releasing hormone neuronal (GnRH) system in mammals (all behavior is controlled by GnRH) would help us understand why eating, alcohol ingestion, and socialization -- in moderation -- is beneficial, and excess is detrimental. It helps to understand the difference between genetic predisposition and epigenetic effects, but you need not be a molecular biologist to make sense of this. It's common sense. Isn't it? Kohl, J.V. (2012) Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 2: 17338.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.