Drinking has long been considered the greatest social lubricant for all sorts of otherwise awkward interactions between people. Both men and women use alcohol to ease their anxieties about social situations, particularly when they involve new people. The moods and feelings of others become easier to detect when the relaxing effects of alcohol set in, and people feel more comfortable in reciprocating those attitudes. According to research published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, men are more affected from this use of alcohol than women, but only amongst themselves.
Researchers found that men under the influence of alcohol were more susceptible to rewarding social behavior, such as smiling, when in the company of other men. “This experimental alcohol study, which included a social context, finds the clearest evidence yet of greater alcohol reinforcement for men than women,” says Catharine Fairbairn, a University of Pittsburgh psychological scientist and lead researcher on the study. Previous research, however, found that men are 50% more likely to be heavy drinkers than women, so the claims of this new study seem a bit redundant. Men typically like drinking more than women, so it’s not a big surprise that they would find it more helpful in bonding with one another. As they say, birds of a feather get sloshed together.
I supposed the only confusing thing about this research is how the resulting theory was that men are more sensitive to alcohol than women, but only when women aren’t around. What exactly does that prove about gender differences or drinking habits? It seems that men are in control of how much alcohol can influence them, depending on the gender of those around them. Are we to understand that men can drink the same amount of alcohol with other men as they do in mixed groups, and have completely different levels of intoxication? That sounds like more of a study on group mentality of genders than on alcohol consumption and emotional contagion.
For women, it appears that alcohol doesn’t influence our response to the rewarding social behaviors of others much at all, but that could be because we just aren’t drinking enough. Or it could be because we don’t alter our behavior in social groups based on the gender of people around us. For me, that makes the most sense, because alcohol has never given me leniency of influence based on anything other than how much of it I consume. If I reach a state of intoxication where I am behaving inappropriately, that’s just where I am, and I have made a fool of myself in groups of other women just the same as with men and co-ed company. So, who’s ready for happy hour?