Alcohol does lead to social bravery, and moreso in men

I drink, and probably a bit too much sometimes, and I often wonder about the primary reason for that. I think it typically comes back to this: social bonding. It’s pretty easy for me, as a guy, to go to a bar and make friends with someone over a sporting event or a side discussion or whatever. It’s hard for guys to make friends — honestly, it is. The context of guy relationships is very different than the context of girl relationships. Sometimes I think that, in my own life, I’d rather have more female-type relationships — but that’s hard to chase as a male. Anyway, enough about me.

Alcohol obviously lowers inhibitions — if you don’t understand that from some type of sexual context if nothing else, you’ve probably never been to a bar/club once — but there’s long been questions about whether it increases bravery. Apparently, it does. New research from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Oslo leads in that direction:

They took 720 social-drinking millennials, split them into groups of three, and then randomly gave each person one of three drinks.

Option 1: Vodka Cranberry

Option 2: Virgin Vodka Cranberry

Option 3: Virgin Vodka Cranberry, but labeled as having alcohol (with a few drops of vodka for believability)

The participants in the study were recorded, with their smiles in particular being noted and then modeled using “sophisticated analyses” to determine their genuineness and contagiousness. The men who drank alcohol were caught flashing their pearly whites more often than those who weren’t. And if a person in the group was drinking heavily, smirk levels increased even further. Whether men were paired with women surprisingly had no effect on the rate of smiling.

There are flaws with the study, sure — 720 people isn’t a lot, it might have been done somewhat in Scandinavia (different culture), and smiles aren’t necessarily tied to social bravery, per se — but it’s still interesting on face. This was the stated goal, apparently:

What were the researchers actually trying to discover? They wanted to find out how important of a role alcohol played in terms of forming relationships, since many men reported that going out with colleagues after work is a bonding experience.

I’d agree with that. I worked for ESPN from 2005 to 2011, although from 2007 to 2011 in NYC. The first year in NYC was a wash socially in terms of work, but from 2008 to about 2010 — when I moved in with my girlfriend, now my wife — I went out almost every Friday after work with my co-workers. Some of those nights got pretty hairy, no doubt — I’m sure there were quite a few smiles being flashed here and there, in the eyes of this study — but even though it was all pretty superficial (we’d get drunk and talk about sports and work and quote the Wikipedia of random people), I did feel closer to those people at that time. Not sure if that says more (bad?) about me than anything, but … I did feel a little bit braver in my relationships/interactions, and a little less anxious about them, and I’m sure the alcohol had a lot to do with that.


So even though the study clearly has some flaws, I’d mostly agree with this (as a man, that is — which I think I still am, even after this post).

Ted Bauer