They might start out staring silently at their pints but a few drinks later and most men will be chatting happily. PICTURE: Supplied

They might start out staring silently at their pints but a few drinks later and most men will be chatting happily.

Now psychologists have found evidence of what many already believe that men need alcohol to smooth the way in social situations. Unlike women, who are capable of enjoying themselves and bonding with others while sober, men do better with a drink to loosen up in a group setting.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found males are more likely to smile and talk loudly after a few rounds. While many men are reluctant to show emotion, alcohol’s influence on the brain makes them more willing to share their feelings.

The research, published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, concludes that men get more ‘social rewards’ from drinking than women. Lead author Dr Michael Sayette said: ‘We saw men are more likely to “catch” smiles from each other after drinking, reducing the awkwardness among a group of them.

‘Alcohol especially seems to facilitate smiling in men. They need it more than women, who experience more similar bonding effects when they are sober.’

Dr Catharine Fairbairn, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, added: ‘Although there is little evidence that men actually desire intimacy and close social relationships any less than women, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that masculine gender norms often constrain expressions of warmth and affiliation among men in social settings.

‘Alcohol can, of course, decrease the extent to which behaviours conform to social norms.’ The study, in which 720 people were filmed socializing and drinking, found that alcohol simply makes us like each other more. Those who drank experienced fewer awkward silences and bonded more than their sober counterparts.

Men in particular benefit from drinking socially as alcohol influences parts of the brain which keep emotions in check, helping them shed their inhibitions. Strathclyde University professor of psychology John Davies agreed that alcohol brings people together in group situations. He said: ‘Alcohol, although is a depressant, disinhibits parts of the brain which regulate behaviour and emotions. It affects dopamine levels, which amongst other things, can raise happiness.

‘In real-life situations, social factors become equally important. One person buys another a drink, then they buy one back. It’s a “social contract”, and now they’re friends.’ 

Dr Sayette added: ‘We don’t really know why alcohol might cause people to get along better but there are a number of possibilities, including the release of hormones in the brain associated with social bonding. ‘In a sober conversation, people are distracted by other things ... Alcohol causes you to focus in on the person speaking, the person you are with, so you connect more and better enjoy the conversation.’

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