Researchers from Switzerland have confirmed what most of us already know – drinking a single glass of beer can make people more sociable.
The team from University Hospital in Basel tested 60 healthy people, with an equal number of men and women drinking alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer.
They took part in a range of tasks, including a face recognition test, empathy test and sexual arousal test.
The lead researcher said there had been little previous research in this area.
Prof Matthias Liechti explained: “Although many people drink beer and know its effects through personal experience there is surprisingly little scientific data on its effects on the processing of emotional social information.”
The desire to be with others, in a happy, talkative and open environment increased in the group which drank the alcoholic beer and was more marked in women and those with higher initial inhibitions.
As well as enabling the participants to recognise happy faces more quickly, the beer also enhanced participants’ emotional empathy, particularly in those with lower levels of initial empathy.
Participants were also shown pictures of explicit sexual content.
After drinking non-alcoholic beer, participants rated them as less pleasant than neutral pictures – but they were rated as more pleasant by those who drank alcoholic beer. This was most marked in the women participants, but researches found it did not actually enhance sexual arousal.
Earlier this year, the government revised the UK guidelines on drinking alcohol.
The advice is now that men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week – the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine.
They were revised due to the stronger evidence available that the risk of cancers, especially breast cancer, increases directly in line with consumption of alcohol.
Commenting on the research, Prof Wim van den Brink, past chairman of the ECNP scientific programme committee, said: “This is an interesting study confirming conventional wisdom that alcohol is a social lubricant and that moderate use of alcohol makes people happier, more social and less inhibited when it comes to sexual engagement.
“The sex differences in the findings can either be explained by differences in blood alcohol concentration between males and females with the same alcohol intake, differences in tolerance due to differences in previous levels of alcohol consumption or by socio-cultural factors.”
He also pointed out that “alcohol-related emotions and cognitions as studied are not always consistent with actual behaviours”.
The study is being published in the journal Psychopharmacology and presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress Conference in Vienna.