Intake of Alcohol Makes Smiles Contagious Among Men

First Posted: Sep 30, 2014 06:33 AM EDT

Consumption of alcoholic beverage makes men more responsive to the smiles of others present in their social group.

A latest study by researchers at the University of Pittsburg reveals that  in men alcohol boosts sensitivity to pleasant social behavior like smiles, The study also highlights the risk factors that trigger the drinking problem among men. They based their finding on the evaluation of 720 healthy social drinkers of ages 21-28.

A study conducted earlier showed that compared to women, men are nearly 50 percent more likely to consume alcohol and most of the drinking problems also occur among men in social settings.

"Many men report that the majority of their social support and social bonding time occurs within the context of alcohol consumption," said lead researcher Catharine Fairbairn. "We wanted to explore the possibility that social alcohol consumption was more rewarding to men than to women - the idea that alcohol might actually 'lubricate' social interaction to a greater extent among men."

They basically looked at the objective non-verbal indicator of social bonding. They analyzed how contagious a genuine smile is in drinking groups. A genuine smile also called as Duchenne, is linked with the actual felt emotions. Using a standardized procedure, the researchers measured and identified the smiles.

The study participants were assigned to three groups. Each group was randomly assigned to take a particular drink i.e. an alcoholic beverage, a non-alcoholic beverage, or a non-alcoholic beverage 'placebo' that was described as alcoholic. They smeared the glass of the fake alcoholic drink with vodka and floated a few drops of vodka on top of the drink.

Each of the group was introduced to each other and the beverages were given in equal parts over time and the participants were made to drink them at an even rate. The participants were also given instruction and were made to interact freely.

Analyzing the video recording, the team used the model smiling behavior in the group and followed the spread of smiles from one person in the group to the next. They noticed that intake of alcohol increased the contagiousness of smiles but only among males and it did not have any significant effect on women. Researchers suggest that alcohol is likely to induce social bravery among men, disrupting the process that prevents them from responding to smile of others.

The smiles among the group that drank the alcoholic beverage were more likely to catch on and indicated a lighter social mood reinforcing the drinking habit .

"Historically, neither the scientific community nor the general public has been terribly concerned about drinking that occurs in social settings. According to popular opinion, a 'social drinker' is necessarily a non-problem drinker, despite the fact that the majority of alcohol consumption for both light drinkers and problem drinkers occurs in a social context," Fairbairn explains. "Not only that, 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."

The finding was documented in Clinical Psychological Science. 

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