Boozing & Schmoozing: Alcohol Boosts Bonding


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!

  1. Julia Rubinic says

    We recently did usability research on the new MySpace with a drunk subject. We were interested in finding out how drunk users would react to the design (assuming that won’t be an infrequent use case for the site). We found this one drunk user, despite some frustrating usability experiences, had a lot of fun discovering friends, new music, etc.

    You can see the 5-minute video here:

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Very interesting, Julia. I suppose I should point out that the research I describe was about “moderate” alcohol consumption, vs. seriously impaired subjects!


  3. Julia Rubinic says

    Yes that’s true. Not to mention your article is about real research. 😉

  4. Chris Goward says

    Very apropos topic for a Friday, Roger. Over at WiderFunnel, we’re about to enjoy our Friday afternoon beers, which is a misnomer since it also includes a lively variety of Palm Bay and other beverages as well.


    1. Roger Dooley says

      Seemed like a good TGIF topic, Chris! Let me know how the social bonding goes!


  5. Ozgur says

    You’re doing great job here , never give up sharing thats amazing articles Roger,

  6. Bridget says

    This research makes perfect sense! I notice this a lot with business networking events – when alcohol is in the mix, people tend to be a lot more relaxed and socialize more (which is the whole point of a networking event). As you say in this post, “a little alcohol smoothes out the awkwardness of meeting new people…” which is especially true for people with introverted personality types. Thank you also for emphasizing “moderate” versus “seriously impaired” subjects. While a little alcohol consumption could be great for business, drinking too much in this type of situation could be disastrous.

  7. Roger Dooley says

    I agree, Bridget – it seems like this is something we all knew intuitively, but the researchers have confirmed it in a structured experiment.


  8. Halina says

    What about post-bonding regrets (i.e., sobering up)?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Funny, Halina! This study tested moderate alcohol consumption – one would hope that behavior wasn’t altered enough to create situations one might regret later!


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