Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

The Upside of a Social Drink


The Upside of a Social Drink

In an ideal world, it would be easy for humans to connect with other humans, but by all reports, an ideal world is still a little way off.

One of the things society can get better at is ridding itself of whatever it is that gets in the way of men connecting with men.

Many men report difficulty connecting emotionally with other men. Those same men however, may easily connect with their women friends.

When anybody shows who they are when the veil is down, I’m in. It’s the beautiful difference between ‘here’s who I am in front of the world,’ and to ‘here’s who I am in front of you.’ But getting to that point takes trust, and that doesn’t always come easily.

Seemingly, it comes harder for men than for women. That said, sometimes the longer it takes to be accepted into somebody’s inner circle the richer the experience.

New research  has found that for men more than women, having a drink in a social situation loosens the unwritten social taboos that stand in the way of connecting with others. 

For men, alcohol has the effect of increasing responsiveness to positive social behaviours such as smiling. Simply put, alcohol makes smiles more contagious.

‘Many men report that the majority of their social support and social bonding time occurs within the context of alcohol consumption,’ explains lead researcher and psychological scientist Catharine Fairbairn.

The Study – What They Did

 The study involved 720 healthy social drinkers (360 male and 360 female), aged 21 to 28.

Participants were randomly assigned into three groups. One group received an alcoholic drink (vodka cranberry), one received a non-alcoholic drink, and the other received a non-alcoholic placebo but were told it was alcoholic.

Participants were casually introduced seated around a table. They were free to interact with each other.

Fairbairn and colleagues used video recordings of the groups to analyse the spread of smiles from one person in the group to another in order.

What They Found

The research showed that alcohol significantly increased the infectiousness of genuine smiles in male drinking groups, but not in groups that contained any women.

For men, alcohol seems to strip social situations of the processes that typically stand in the way of them responding to the smiles of others. The authors call it, ‘a sort of social bravery’.

 In the group that drank the alcoholic beverages, a smile was also more likely to be ‘caught’ by those who were heavier drinkers, regardless of gender.

Having a drink or two might be helpful in loosening social interactions, however the authors note that this process may potentially encourage problematic drinking behaviour.

As explained by Fairbairn, ‘… the need to ‘belong’ and create social bonds with others is a fundamental human motive. Therefore, social motives may be highly relevant to the understanding of how alcohol problems develop.’

Previous research has found that men are 50% more likely to be problem drinkers than women. In light of this the relationship between alcohol and social connection may actually be a risk factor for excessive drinking.

The need to connect is a fundamental part of being human, and alcohol seems to help this along.

There are consequences of problem drinking, but there are also consequences that extend from being disconnected with others.

Provided that a social drink now and then isn’t allowed to flourish into excessive drinking behavior, a quiet social drink can facilitate connection, shutting down the ‘what will they think of me’ in favour of the ever wonderful, ‘here I am’.

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