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Study: Alcohol Affects Bonding in Groups

Update Date: Jun 29, 2012 04:05 PM EDT

The next time you want to have a really good time with your friends, you might want to bring out the booze. A new University of Pittsburgh study has revealed that "moderate amounts of alcohol--consumed in a social setting--can enhance positive emotions and social bonding and relieve negative emotions among those drinking."

Expected to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the researchers found that "moderate doses of alcohol have a powerful effect on both male and female social drinkers when they are in a group."

Researchers studied an unusually large sample of 720 males and females and said that "previous alcohol studies testing the impact of alcohol on emotions involved social drinkers 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 in a release. "We felt that many of the most significant effects of alcohol would more likely be revealed in an experiment using a social setting."

Here's what Sayette and his team of eight found:

  • Alcohol stimulates social bonding
  • Alcohol increases the amount of time people spend talking to one another
  • Alcohol reduces displays of negative emotions
  • alcohol enhanced the likelihood of "golden moments"
  • Alcohol increased the frequency of "true" smiles, and also enhanced the coordination of these smiles

Sayette said the new findings spur a variety of questions.

"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 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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