6 Psychological Reasons Why Beer Helps You Connect With Others
One of the great thinkers of our time once said, “To alcohol. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
Okay….I lied. It was actually Homer Simpson. And while Homer isn’t exactly Aristotle, he does eloquently express the dual nature of alcohol.
On one hand, it’s known for unnecessary drama, late night mistakes, and emotional outbursts. But on the other hand it can help you relax, bond, and even navigate awkward social situations with strangers.
Alcohol can have a powerful effect on our social interactions. And to help demonstrate why alcohol is one of the world’s most popular beverages, here’s 6 psychological reasons why beer helps you connect. Backed by science.
1. It Enhances Emotions That Help Us Bond
It’s no secret that beer throughout the ages has been an important ingredient for social bonding. But for the longest time psychologists had trouble replicating these effects of alcohol in the lab. Drinking a beer solo in the lab didn’t seem to really boost a person’s mood.
However, alcohol’s effects are more complex in social group dynamics. One study went beyond the lab to look at how alcohol affects behavior in small groups of strangers.
Researches split people into different groups and gave them either alcohol, a non-alcoholic drink, or a placebo. They also video recorded the interactions and paid particular attention to emotional cues (like conversation and smiling), as well as facial and speech behaviors.
They saw that the groups that had been drinking alcohol had more group conversation, discussions, and smiling. The psychologists believed that alcohol boosts the emotions related to bonding:
Alcohol consumption enhanced individual- and group-level behaviors associated with positive affect, reduced individual-level behaviors associated with negative affect, and elevated self-reported bonding.
2. Alcohol Keeps Us In the Present Moment
It’s hard to stay with any conversation when you’re worrying about what happened earlier at work, stressing about a future deadline, or wondering if you forgot any family responsibilities.
When you’re mind is anxious, it puts a damper on your social interactions. But alcohol seems to give us a bit of zen and keeps us in the here in and now.
For example, a study found that alcohol reduces our “emotional inertia”. Meaning that our current mood isn’t affected as much by any earlier emotions. The researchers state that:
Findings suggest that alcohol enhances the ability to freely enjoy the present moment untethered by past experience…
3. Alcohol Helps Reduce Our Anxiety
A lot of people have social anxiety.
Hanging around with other people can make them nervous. Especially when meeting new people or in a group setting where not everyone is familiar. Or maybe even when you’re afraid because you know exactly who’s going to be there.
But alcohol has the ability to reduce our worries about what might happen.
In a study which may seem a bit mean-spirited, researchers subjected people to electrical shocks. The key part of the experiment, however, was that some people knew they would receive shocks, while others were told they would receive shocks of unknown intensities or not at all.
The more alcohol was in a person’s bloodstream, the less anxiety a person had. They also showed a lower startled reflex response. What’s more is that this “stress dampening” effect was stronger in cases where an individual was uncertain about the intensity of the shock.
Showing that alcohol reduces our worries when we’re uncertain about how bad a stressful situation might be.
4. It Narrows Our Attention
Our attention can only handle so much when we’ve knocked a few back.
While this can cause some problems, in social setting it’s a boon. We can focus on just one thing (whatever that is) with less capacity to worry about other things.
An older study from 1988 had researchers tell participants that they’d have to give a speech. A nerve racking event for most of us. However, some were mildly intoxicated and others were dead sober.
And there was one last twist. Some of those participants had to wait silently, while another group was given art slides to look over.
The intoxicated participants who looked at art had less anxiety about the upcoming speech because they had less mental capacity to focus their attention on it. The art was enough to distract them, and thus lowered their stress
Interestingly enough, being sober and looking at art, or being intoxicated and waiting silently, didn’t have the same benefit.
So when we drink, we’re more likely to get wrapped up in conversation and focus less on things like social rejection, smelly breath, or having something in your teeth.
5. It’s More Rewarding With Strangers
It’s a common pastime to hit the local bar pub and catch up with friends over a pint. Beer, wine, and spirits can help us unwind, relax, and connect. And what better way to do that than with friends.
However, a study in 2017 finds that alcohol is most rewarding around strangers. The researcher conducting the study found that the positive moods and anxiety relief may be magnified in social situations where we are unfamiliar with others.
Alcohol will have the same effect on our bodies whether we’re with friends or strangers. But we perceive it to be more rewarding among strangers simply because it eases the social processes required to make connections with new people.
6. It Changes This Aspect of Your Personality
We’ve all heard how some people are completely different when they drink alcohol. But for the most part, that’s way overstated. Another study revealed that when we drink, we think our personalities change more than they really do.
Researchers had groups of people come into a lab for some group activities. They provided some with alcoholic beverages while others just drank soda.
Individuals assessed their personality during the interactions, but they were also later rated by sober observers who watched a video of the activities. While drinkers reported many different changes to their own personalities, the observers only saw changes in one area of personality. Extroversion.
The study showed that when we drink, we may think we’re totally different people. But as far as our actual behavior is concerned when we’re intoxicated, others see as as more outgoing and extroverted in our social interactions.
Bonding Over a Beer
We’ve all ran our own personal experiments with alcohol. Hopefully with great success, although it may have resulted in a few failures as well.
We can attest to the fact that responsible drinking (and I do stress responsible) can be an incredibly rewarding social experience. Whether it’s among friends, family, or strangers. Some research has even shown that certain groups of people benefit more from alcohol’s social lubrication than others.
And while it’s fun to learn about the psychology behind alcohol’s social effects, it shall remain a topic that’s more fun to experience in real life than to read about on the web.