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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Study: Alcohol Makes Smiling More Contagious Among Men


Turns out, booze is more of a social lubricant for men than women, researchers find.

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Be careful. You might catch it. Photo via Shutterstock

Be careful. You might catch it. Photo via Shutterstock

Alcohol can make you more sensitive to unpleasant stimuli, like the aggressive stance of a stranger on the street who, after you engage him in a fist fight, turns out to be a parked car. Oops! But drinking can also boost your sensitivity to pleasant things—like the taste of fried chicken at 1 am. And the smiles on the faces of your drinking companions as they, too, intoxicate themselves to happy oblivion.

This is especially true among men, who imbibe more alcohol on average than women, past studies have shown. And part of the reason for this might be socially motivated: Men may rely on booze as a social lubricant more than women do, according to a study by the University of Pittsburg. “Many men report that the majority of their social support and social bonding time occurs within the context of alcohol consumption,” says lead researcher Catharine 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.”

Researchers conducted a study of 720 healthy social drinkers aged 21-28, who were instructed to drink either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages while “interacting freely” with each other. Then, scientists ”measured and identified” the drinkers’ “smiling behavior” and tracked the “spread of smiles” throughout the study participants. They noticed that in the group where alcohol was being consumed, smiling was more contagious. This was not true for women—their smiles were just as contagious if they were sober.

What the study seems to suggest (albeit strangely) is that alcohol is more likely to induce “social bravery” among men, making them more prone to break down boundaries and openly share in their friends’ joy. This makes sense, given that we live in a culture that often discourages men from being outwardly emotional.

But heavy drinking comes with all kinds of other potential downer side effects, like hangovers, and urinating in places that aren’t technically bathrooms. So here’s a suggestion: Dudes, if seeing a smile on your buddy’s face makes you want to smile like a fool, go for it! Embrace the smile! No need to wait until you’re eight beers deep. And while you’re at it, give him a hug and tell him you love him. Like a man.