MartiniCompany happy hours, Friday afternoon beer busts, and similar events are standard operating procedure at many businesses – sometimes to the dismay of the firm’s accountants and attorneys. A new study shows that there are indeed benefits from these kinds of activities. Specifically, the research shows that moderate amounts of alcohol increase both positive emotions and social bonding and also relieve negative emotions.

The research was done at the University of Pittsburgh where, in my CMU days, I might have been seen doing a little social bonding myself! The sample size was large, 720 participants. (I’d guess recruiting for this study was fairly easy!) The subjects were assembled into small groups. The journal Psychological Science describes the study:

Each group was instructed to drink an alcoholic beverage, a placebo, or a nonalcoholic control beverage…

Results showed that alcohol not only increased the frequency of “true” smiles, but also enhanced the coordination of these smiles. In other words, alcohol enhanced the likelihood of “golden moments,” with groups provided alcohol being more likely than those offered nonalcoholic beverages to have all three group members smile simultaneously. Participants in alcohol-drinking groups also likely reported greater social bonding than did the nonalcohol-drinking groups and were more likely to have all three members stay involved in the discussion. [Emphasis added. From Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups]

This research looked at how modest amounts of alcohol lubricated social interactions and increased social bonding between strangers. The effects on interactions between people who know each other, e.g., co-workers, might not follow the same pattern. Nevertheless, it seems likely that just as a little alcohol smooths out the awkwardness of meeting new people, it might also serve to dial down minor tensions among fellow employees and/or clients.

So, feel free to conduct some research of your own into this topic, and report your findings in a comment!