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    Weekend Science: Alcohol Makes People More Social
    By Hank Campbell | August 18th 2012 11:12 AM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Urban legend says that alcohol is a social icebreaker - and we want to believe, given our preference for commercials where impossibly attractive young people converge on some beach and all have a fantastic time, which is in contrast to actual beer gatherings where a lot of fights and arrests occur.(1)


    Want to look like this?  Drink alcohol. Credit: Shutterstock

    But moderate alcohol can boost social bonding, according to a recent paper in Psychological Science.  The paper claims that alcohol dampens negative feelings as well.

    We have all seen people who have more negative feelings when they drink, getting depressed or even in fights. That was not moderate drinking, alcohol researchers argue.  What is moderate?  This is social science, not applied, moderate is a moving target and 'further research will be necessary' to figure out what moderate means. But regardless of definitions they say they have a benefit over other studies on alcohol - most of those other ones had people drinking in isolation.  Not all, but this one is far more rigorous than the one 'showing' that conservatives have the mental and moral capacity of drunk people because they surveyed drunk people outside a bar.

    20 groups of strangers (composed of three males, one female and two males,  two males and one female, or three females) were assigned one of three different beverage scenarios - alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic, or a placebo.  The alcohol was vodka and cranberry juice (less for women) while the placebo was 'smeared' with alcohol to seem less like a placebo. Each group had three drinks over 36 minutes and they recorded the interactions and then analyzed them using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and the Grouptalk model for speech behavior to make their determinations.

    Strangers given free alcohol like each other more, they found - but it wasn't just the perception of free, since the placebo group that only thought they got alcohol had fewer "true" smiles under the FACS metric.  They determined that alcohol increased the likelihood of 'golden' moments where all three group members smile simultaneously. The alcohol groups also likely reported greater social bonding than did the non-drinking groups and were more likely to have all three members stay involved in the discussion.


    Men, what about this picture makes you feel social?  The alcohol, of course. Credit: Shutterstock.

    "By demonstrating the sensitivity of our group formation paradigm for studying the rewarding effects of alcohol," said Michael A. Sayette, lead author and professor of psychology at University of Pittsburgh, "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?"

    On question one, it showed that people given alcohol felt better for a short time around strangers. On question two, there are a lot of other variables, like when they get out of college and have a bad day at work, etc. rather than knowing they are in a psychology study.

    Citation: Michael A. Sayette, Kasey G. Creswell, John D. Dimoff, Catharine E. Fairbairn, Jeffrey F. Cohn, Bryan W. Heckman, Thomas R. Kirchner, John M. Levine, and Richard L. Moreland, 'Alcohol and Group Formation A Multimodal Investigation of the Effects of Alcohol on Emotion and Social Bonding',  Psychological Science, August 2012; vol. 23, 8: pp. 869-878,  doi:10.1177/0956797611435134

    NOTE:

    (1) California is not the only place where this occurs, this guy in Tennessee was arrested for for calling 911 to get a ride for beer, but we have more than our share. Drunken domestic violence is also different; this woman was arrested for slapping her boyfriend for buying the wrong beer, which means he called police instead of bringing the pimp hand down.  Good luck getting away with that in Tennessee.

    Comments

    The finding of this study resonates with me. I've felt it personally, and I'm sure most would agree. Having a drink with someone or others is warm, comforting and relaxing experience.

    It is better to get some social skills naturally than have to rely to drinking alcohol. Alcoholism always starts with drinking in moderation.

    Is the alcool a problem or some other factors can push individuals to commit bad behaviors ? During lot of events, the problems come after the sunset when bad individuals feel they can commit different mischiefs incognito.

    For the story where a women used violence against her boyfriend because he didn't bring the good kind of beer : Maybe she was sexally unsatisfied and put the blame of her violence on the wrong beer ?

    Hank
    The alcohol has to be what does it for my wife, no way it could be the awesome sex.  If I bring her a dry chardonnay instead of a buttery chardonnay, well, she goes nonlinear...
    For sex, the best is long distance running. It is appealing I find my girlfriend so sexy when she is sweting and has her skin so warm. Also, too much alcool is not so terrificaly good for having good and strong erections...