July 1, 2012
Alcohol Can Enhance Social Bonding Skills
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
When consumed at a party or other social gathering, moderate amounts of alcohol could enhance a person's positive emotions and social bonding skills while relieving feelings of negativity, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have discovered in a new study.
While previous research on the impact of alcohol on an individual's emotional state have focused on drinking in isolation, the researchers say that their new paper, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that moderate doses of alcohol have an opposite effect on both men and women when they are in a group, according to a June 29 press release.
Those previous studies "may have failed to create realistic conditions for studying this highly social drug," Michael A. Sayette, lead author of the study and a psychology professor at the university's Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement. "We felt that many of the most significant effects of alcohol would more likely be revealed in an experiment using a social setting."
To test that theory, Sayette and his colleagues gathered small groups using a total of 720 male and female participants, assessing both individual and group reactions using both the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and the Grouptalk model for speech behavior. Based on their observations, they concluded that drinking alcohol actually stimulates social bonding and increases the amount of time that people spend speaking with each other. Furthermore, they observed a decrease in displays of negative emotion.
"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," the press release said. "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."
Participants sat around a circular table and consumed a total of three drinks during a span of 36-minutes, and the researchers recorded video of each session. That video footage was later analyzed, and the duration and sequence of each subject's facial and speech behaviors was "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," they said. "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, 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 added.