What’s the quickest way to get a gruff group of guys smiling? Pour them a round of drinks. Call it contagious smiles:
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.
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.
“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.”
If you’re wondering how you measure alcohol induced smile contagion, here’s some info on how the study was carried out:
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.
It turns out that women don’t need a drink. Call it a guy thing:
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.
Now, there is an important warning not to overdo things. That same emotional reward can perpetuate a cycle of drinking — reward — drinking, which can lead men (and women) to drinking problems if they’re not careful:
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.
That troublesome trend is what the researchers were actually looking to prove. The smiles? A happy discovery.
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