Study reveals moderate doses of alcohol increase social bonding in groups

A new study led by University of Pittsburgh researchers reveals that moderate amounts of alcohol--consumed in a social setting--can enhance positive emotions and social bonding and relieve negative emotions among those drinking.

While it is usually taken for granted that people drink to reduce stress and enhance positive feelings, many studies have shown that has an opposite effect. In a new paper titled " and Group Formation: A Multimodal Investigation of the on Emotion and Social Bonding," research shows that moderate doses of alcohol have a powerful effect on both male and female social drinkers when they are in a group.

The paper will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

According to the researchers, previous alcohol studies testing the impact of alcohol on emotions involved consuming alcohol in isolation rather than in groups.

"Those studies may have failed to create realistic conditions for studying this highly social drug," said Michael A. Sayette, lead author and professor of psychology in Pitt's Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. "We felt that many of the most significant effects of alcohol would more likely be revealed in an experiment using a social setting."

Sayette and his colleagues assembled various small groups using 720 male and female participants, a larger sample than in previous alcohol studies. Researchers assessed individual and group interactions using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and the Grouptalk model for speech behavior.

They concluded that alcohol stimulates social bonding, increases the amount of time people spend talking to one another, and reduces displays of negative emotions. According to Sayette, the paper introduces into the alcohol literature new measures of facial expression and speech behavior that offer a sensitive and comprehensive assessment of social bonding.

Sayette and eight colleagues took special care in the methods they employed to form the groups. Each participant was randomly assigned to a group of three unacquainted "strangers." Each group was instructed to drink an alcoholic beverage, a placebo, or a nonalcoholic control beverage. Twenty groups representing each gender composition (three males; one female and two males; two males and one female; and three females) were assigned to the three different beverage scenarios. Group members sat around a circular table and consumed three drinks over a 36-minute time span. Each session was video recorded, and the duration and sequence of the participants' facial and speech behaviors were systematically coded frame by frame.

Results showed that alcohol not only increased the frequency of "true" smiles, but also enhanced the coordination of these smiles. In other words, alcohol enhanced the likelihood of "golden moments," with groups provided alcohol being more likely than those offered nonalcoholic beverages to have all three group members smile simultaneously. Participants in alcohol-drinking groups also likely reported greater social bonding than did the nonalcohol-drinking groups and were more likely to have all three members stay involved in the discussion.

"By demonstrating the sensitivity of our group formation paradigm for studying the rewarding effects of alcohol," said Sayette, "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?"

The new research sets the stage for evaluation of potential associations between socioemotional responses to alcohol and individual differences in personality, family history of alcoholism, and genetic vulnerability.

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Journal information: Psychological Science

Citation: Study reveals moderate doses of alcohol increase social bonding in groups (2012, June 29) retrieved 25 May 2019 from
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Jun 29, 2012
Next study: Smoking marijuana makes group of participants happy and hungry. Researchers wonder why.

Jun 29, 2012
This sounds like it was written for The Onion. I hope the government didn't pay for any of that "study", and I hope the school did not accept this guy's work as credit towards a degree. What other deep mysteries is this guy looking to solve? Do beautiful women attract more men to them because of their looks or their philosophies of life?

Jun 29, 2012
You are not apparently understanding how work like this can relate to other issues, such as the cultural evolution of alcohol production, and the role of alcohol in social groups. You might think you have it all figured out because you like to drink beer with your friends, but it turns out it is almost certainly extremely complicated how the physiological effects of alcohol relate to our social behaviors. Also, many things you think you know are "true" turn out not to be when studied closely.

It is probably the case that alcohol culturally evolved because it acted on certain parts of our brain that help us identify with other individuals, and thus facilitated coalition behavior. There are many varied possibilities how this might work, and only studies on drinking and social organization can address them.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism thought it was worthwhile, and I agree.

Jun 29, 2012
Next study: How the insightfulness of comments on blogs correlate with education and whether or not commenter has read source material.

Have another bonghit PhotonX.

Jun 30, 2012
I am agree with this article and with all commenter .......I like what in article said about the results of alcohal thats was very true .
I've heard about a media player that helps to shape your positive emotions, it could be a solution to fight what you call deadly emotions while it plays your favorites music and videos, the site is but it's just by invite I've been told that the best way to get it it's to follow them on Twitter and you may receive and

Jun 30, 2012
Xavier4; I'm convinced now. So I am now seeking funding for my research project on whether watching porn with a beautiful girl engenders higher order thinking related to activities which can serve to ensure the survival of the species. Seriously, it's probably OK to get away with getting money and college credit to do a bullshit study, but if it gets to the point where you are believing your own bullshit, then you are getting yourself in too deep.

Jun 30, 2012

the banks do the same thing. they hire economists to tell you it's a complex thing to run an economy and that you need lots of high paid professionals and bankers to get massive 'funding' which we call bailouts funded with taxpayer money and DEVALUATION.

there is a cost to everything. people arguing in favor of other people bearing this cost, whether they be scientists or bankers or lawyers-------they are part of the fallacy of 'expertise', that all knowledge to be gained is complex and requires expert analysis.

this is NONSENSE. if humanity actually found it THAT difficult to understand how these things work at their basic level, then things like alcohol, or lending money, or having a court with a judge-----would NEVER HAVE BEEN INVENTED OR USED.

the essential understanding is SIMPLE. no expertise.

Jun 30, 2012
"ensure the survival of the species"

Well, you are demonstrating you don't understand the basics of evolutionary biology, so why would you understand these other issues? Just because YOU can't see the relevance for basic science doesn't make it bullshit. Maybe you don't care about how alcohol evolved, and how it relates to social behavior, but scientists do care. This isn't just about drinking with friends. Problem you have is that you can't imagine how such a subject could be serious, because you associate it with leisure, and mindless behavior.

Some of the most complicated phenomena in the world are apparently simple. Marvin Minsky, 60 years ago, assigned a grad student to make computer vision over the summer. Shouldn't be that hard. Turns out it's a bitch, and we still can't do it well.

Jun 30, 2012
Jeddy: Care to enlighten us then on how alcohol works at a basic level? Shouldn't be hard - it's simple right? No expertise needed - just maybe the experience of having a beer with a few friends.

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