Consuming an alcoholic beverage may make men more responsive to the smiles of others in their social group, according to new research in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings suggest that, for men, alcohol increases sensitivity to rewarding social behaviors like smiling, and may shed light on risk factors that contribute to problem drinking among men.
"This experimental alcohol study, which included a social context, finds the clearest evidence yet of greater alcohol reinforcement for men than women," says psychological scientist and lead researcher Catharine Fairbairn of the University of Pittsburgh.
Previous research has shown that men are about 50% more likely to drink excessively than women, and much problem drinking among men occurs in social settings.
"Many men report that the majority of their social support and social bonding time occurs within the context of alcohol consumption," says 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."
Fairbairn, Professor Michael Sayette, and their colleagues decided to focus on an objective non-verbal indicator of social bonding, examining the infectiousness of genuine smiles in drinking groups. Genuine, or Duchenne, smiles are associated with actual felt emotion as opposed to outward displays of emotion, which may or may not be genuine. Importantly, these smiles can be identified and measured using a standardized procedure.
The researchers randomly assigned 720 healthy social drinkers, ages 21 to 28, to groups of three. Each group was then randomly assigned to receive a particular drink: an alcoholic beverage (vodka cranberry), a non-alcoholic beverage, or a non-alcoholic "placebo" beverage that was described as alcoholic. The researchers smeared the glass of the fake alcoholic drink with vodka and floated a few drops of vodka on top of the drink to make it more believable.
The participants in each group were casually introduced and positioned around a table. The beverages were doled out in equal parts over time, and participants were told to drink them at an even rate. Otherwise, the participants weren't given any specific instruction and were allowed to interact freely.
Based on the video recordings, Fairbairn and colleagues used sophisticated analyses to model smiling behavior in the groups, following the spread of smiles from one individual in a group to the next.
They found that alcohol significantly increased the contagiousness of smiles, but only for all-male groups – it did not have a significant effect on emotional contagion for groups that contained any women. The findings suggest that alcohol is especially likely to induce a sort of "social bravery" among men, disrupting processes that would normally prevent them from responding to another person's smile.
Among groups who received alcoholic beverages, a smile was also more likely to be "caught" if those on the receiving end of the smile were heavier drinkers, regardless of gender.
Smiles that were likely to catch on were associated with increased positive mood and social bonding, as well as decreased negative mood. Thus, smile infection could represent an important indicator of alcohol-related reinforcement and a mechanism supporting drinking.
These findings are significant, says Fairbairn, because they highlight the importance of social context in understanding drinking behavior:
"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," she adds. "Therefore, social motives may be highly relevant to the understanding of how alcohol problems develop."
Co-authors on the study include Michael Sayette at the University of Pittsburgh and Odd Aalen and Arnoldo Frigessi of the University of Oslo.
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant R01 AA015773 to M. A. Sayette and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Award 0753293-006 and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide Grant 230165/F11 to C. E. Fairbairn.
The article abstract is available online: http://cpx.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/09/22/2167702614548892.abstract
Clinical Psychological Science is APS's newest journal. For a copy of the article "Alcohol and Emotional Contagion: An Examination of the Spreading of Smiles in Male and Female Drinking Groups" and access to other Clinical Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anna Mikulak | Eurek Alert!
Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung
Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences