Alcohol Makes Smiles More Contagious, for Men

Oct 08, 2014, by Dr. Becky Coats

According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, alcohol consumption makes smiles more contagious, but only for men. Researchers think this is an important insight because it highlights the crucial role alcohol plays in many male bonding rituals.

Why Measure a Smile’s Contagiousness?

It’s important to understand why researchers wanted to look at smiles. They were hoping to study the effect of alcohol on the formation of positive social bonds. A smile is an objectively measurable external sign of happiness that is also indicative of how well the group is functioning together. Like yawns, a smile is more likely to be contagious among people who experience positive feelings for one another. In fact, because of the way smiling makes you happy, this is literally a way that happiness becomes contagious.

By measuring smiles, they were able to look into the effectiveness of bonding in groups. They wouldn’t need to trust people’s subjective ratings about how good they felt.

Putting Alcohol to the Test

In order to determine the impact of alcohol on social interactions, researchers assigned 720 healthy social drinkers into groups of three. The groups were given either an alcoholic beverage (vodka cranberry), a non-alcoholic drink, or a placebo alcoholic beverage, which contained just traces of vodka to make it more believable. After introductions, participants were given drinks at regular intervals and were told to drink them evenly. Otherwise, the groups were given no instructions on how to interact or drink.

Researchers then analyzed videos of the interactions to determine who smiling interactions worked in the groups. They found that smiles were significantly more likely to spread in all-male groups that had alcohol. There was no significant effect on groups that had one or more women in them.

This doesn’t mean that people in groups with women didn’t smile. In fact, it’s likely they smiled quite a bit, but it means that, without alcohol, men tended to smile less in all-male groups than they did in all-male groups with alcohol. Researchers believe this is because alcohol disables some of the inhibitions that keep men from smiling around one another (such as a reluctance to concede dominance). They also note that this probably contributes to the tendency of men to be heavier drinkers than women.

Another Way to Make Your Smile Contagious

Of course, there’s another way to make your smile contagious while remaining sober, and that’s to make yourself more comfortable smiling. If you are unhappy with your smile, you are more reluctant to share it, which not only makes you less likely to smile, it can make you less happy, because smiling improves our happiness, and it can make others less happy.

Chances are, no matter what bothers you about your smile, cosmetic dentistry has a solution. To learn the right one for you, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment with a Grapevine cosmetic dentist at Grapevine Dental Care.