Beer can boost the desire to be in happy social situations, according to the research.
Lead researcher Prof. Matthias Liechti, of the University of Basel in Switzerland, and colleagues reveal that drinking beer enables us to see happy faces faster, increases social engagement, and makes viewing explicit sexual images easier.
The team recently presented the findings at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress in Vienna, Austria, and they were also published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
Despite alcohol consumption being relatively common, with more than 56 percent of American adults reporting drinking in the past month, Prof. Liechti says there has been little scientific research on how alcohol - particularly beer - affects emotions and social tendencies.
The team decided to address this research gap by conducting a double-blind, randomized crossover study involving 60 healthy adults (30 men, 30 women) aged 18-50.
Half of the participants were required to drink a glass of alcoholic beer - an average size of 0.5 liters, varying by the sex and body weight of subjects - while the remaining participants received a glass of nonalcoholic beer.
On measuring the blood alcohol content of the alcoholic beer drinkers, they found it had risen to around 0.4 grams per liter.
Study confirms alcohol as a 'social lubricant'
Next, both groups of participants took part in a series of experiments. These included tests of facial recognition, empathy, and sexual arousal.
Compared with subjects who consumed the nonalcoholic beer, those who drank the alcoholic beer were faster to identify happy faces on the facial recognition test.
- Last year, the U.S. beer industry sold 206.7 million barrels of beer
- As of last year, there were more than 6,000 permitted breweries in the U.S.
- According to a 2014 poll, beer is American's preferred alcoholic beverage.
Alcoholic beer drinkers were also more likely to want to be with other people in happy social scenarios, compared with those who consumed the nonalcoholic beer.
Additionally, the researchers found that the alcoholic beer drinkers were more willing to view explicit sexual images, though this did not increase sexual arousal. This finding was strongest for women.
On assessing subjects' levels of the hormone oxytocin - known to contribute to social bonding - the researchers found there was no difference between alcoholic and nonalcoholic beer drinkers.
This suggests the increased social tendencies seen in alcoholic beer drinkers are likely down to the alcohol itself. "These effects of alcohol on social cognition likely enhance sociability," notes Prof. Liechti.
Prof. Wim van den Brink, chair of the ECNP Scientific Programme Committee, says these findings confirm that alcohol acts as a "social lubricant" and that moderate alcohol consumption can make people happier, increase social engagement, and reduce sexual inhibition.
"It should also be recognized that different effects of alcohol can be seen according to whether your blood alcohol is increasing or decreasing, and of course how much alcohol you have taken," he adds.