Have you ever walked into a party to find the men crowded around the beer cooler while the women chat with a glass of wine elsewhere? A new study from the University of Pittsburgh could help explain this phenomenon.
According to the study, which filmed 720 people socializing while drinking, men need alcohol in order to have a good time socializing, while women do not.
The study reviewed the filmed subjects and came to several conclusions about socialization in men versus women.
The researchers concluded that when revelers drank, there were fewer awkward silences, and subjects reported bonding more with other partygoers than they would without alcohol.
Men also tended to smile at each other more after a few drinks than those men in the study who stayed sober during the social event. Dr. Michael Sayette, lead author of the study, told the Daily Mail, “Alcohol especially seems to facilitate smiling in men. They need it more than women, who experience more similar bonding effects when they are sober.”
Sober women, on the other hand, were louder than sober male groups. But when alcohol was introduced, men seemed to enjoy themselves more as their volume raised to the same level as the women’s.
All of the study’s conclusions point to the same thesis: Alcohol’s effects on the brain cause inhibitions to lower, so men feel freer to express their emotions. Typically, society has conditioned men not to show emotion. Assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Dr. Catharine Fairbairn, told the Daily Mail, “Alcohol can, of course, disinhibit and decrease the extent to which behaviors conform to social norms.”
Alcohol releases men from their social conditioning by affecting the part of the brain that generally controls emotion, and they feel the ability to let loose and have a good time.
Academics cited in the study concluded that men feel a greater “social reward” from drinking alcohol than women do. While alcohol is a depressant, when it comes to pharmacology, it also releases dopamine, the “pleasure hormone,” which produces a warm and happy feeling.
The study also found that the “social contract” in drinking situations brings men together. Taking turns buying each other a drink is a friendly exchange that signals that each man likes the other. The researchers likened the exchange of drinks to giving each other a gift.
These findings may help to explain why, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, men are more likely than women to abuse almost all types of drugs, including alcohol. While women and men share the same likelihood of addiction, in most age groups, men have higher rates of use or dependence on alcohol than women.
However, men also metabolize alcohol differently than women, which is why the legal limit for what constitutes heavy drinking is different for men and women.
This study may also explain why men and women have different norms for social activities. Activities attributed to men generally have some association with alcohol, including watching sports, going to night clubs or attending bar crawls. Women have a much more diverse set of activities in their social lives, which may or may not include alcohol, and more often includes wellness.
Sayette also commented on the conclusion of the study. He says it’s still unclear why alcohol makes people get along better, but among the possibilities is that the hormones released into the brain upon alcohol intake are also associated with social bonding.