People might say that they drink to “dumb themselves down.” And, as I’m sure many of us can attest, drinking definitely does correspond with far-more-asinine-than-usual behavior, but what would you think if you heard that drinking beer can actually make you smarter?
Just recently, Psychopharmacology published the results of a study finding that there is a relationship between beer consumption and empathy. In the double-blind, random-order, cross-over study, researchers from University of Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, asked sixty subjects to consume beer and then complete a few tests. Thirty of the beers were alcoholic, while the other half were not. The amount of alcohol in each person’s drink was proportionate with their size, or enough to raise their blood alcohol level by about .4 grams per liter.
In one test, researchers showed subjects pictures of faces representing six different expressions – surprise, anger, fear, happiness, disgust, sadness – and asked them to name the emotion. Alcohol-drinking participants were faster at identifying happy faces than their alcohol-free counterparts, the scientists found.
In addition to being able to more readily pick out positive facial expressions, test subjects demonstrated a larger desire to be with other people in a happy social situation. The effects varied from person to person, but they were greater in those who had previously demonstrated a higher social inhibition.
The final aspect the study touched on was the relationship between sex and alcohol. It found an increase in ability to view sexual images amongst the participants who consumed alcohol, and this upsurge was higher amongst women than men. However, it’s important to note that just because the subjects were more tolerant of sexually explicit images does not mean that the alcohol caused them to be more interested in sex. It’s also important to remember that these findings are based on the results after one beer. Alcohol consumed in larger amounts was not studied.
So, the next time you feel like you can’t wait for a drink while you’re standing awkwardly at your cousin’s wedding reception, know that there’s some solid science behind your desire. Not only does alcohol serve as an excellent social lubricant by lowering inhibitions and encouraging socializing, but it may help you pick up on emotionally nuanced facial expressions of the new people you’re talking to.
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