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Study Shows Moderate Alcohol Consumption Enhances Social Bonding

The next time someone suggests going out for a drink, you may want to take them up on their offer because it could improve your friendship. A new study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh reveals moderate alcohol consumption in a social setting can increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions while enhancing bonding among peers.

According to researchers, previous alcohol studies tested the impact of alcohol on emotions of social drinkers while drinking in isolation. Michael Sayette, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study, said the participants of this study had their individual and group interactions examined using several techniques.

"We used a variety of measures that had not been brought into this literature before, including facial expression measures, and we then looked at how these people interacted when they were intoxicated as opposed to when they were sober," Sayette said.

Each group included three "strangers," and each member of the group was given some kind of drink. While the drink of choice, agreed upon by the researchers, was vodka and cranberry juice, Sayette said some of them were given something slightly different.

"We also had groups of people who were given safe drinks, what we call placebo beverages, in which they believed they were drinking alcohol, but they did not actually receive alcohol, and those groups did not behave the way the actual alcohol groups did," Sayette said.

In a 36-minute time frame, the group members consumed one entire beverage, taking a drink about once every twelve minutes. Sayette said the participants' body type factored into how much alcohol they were each given.

"Depending on the person's weight and some other factors, the amount they drank varied, so you can imagine a 120-pound woman is drinking less alcohol than a 180-pound man," he said. "What we did was we gave them an amount that was designed to bring each of them to the same level of intoxication."

Sayette added the findings showed alcohol consumption created more genuine physical responses and "golden moments" among the participants. "We found that when people were in the alcohol groups, they were significantly more likely to all show the true smile, as opposed to the social smile at the exact same instance," Sayette said.

The research is expected to pave the way for future studies, which will examine socioemotional responses to alcohol and individual differences in someone's personality, family history of alcoholism, and genetic vulnerability.