The Relationship Between Alcohol and Social Cues

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Going out with some friends and having a few drinks is a past time a lot of Americans are familiar with. Most people experience the presence of alcohol in nearly all social events ranging from a birthday party, to graduation, to dinner out, even at fundraising events. While the majority of the people are not alcoholic, most associate appropriate levels of alcohol ingestion to be a way to loosen up and have fun with others. It has been found that alcohol has more effect in social situations than just loosening a person up.

Getting a buzz, getting tipsy or getting drunk has been found to reduce the amount of communication between two areas of the brain which are responsible for interpreting and responding to social signals coming from others. Research from the University of Illinois has found that alcohol suppresses activity in the amygdala. This is the area of the brain which perceives social cues, such as facial expressions and body language. The experiment performed which gathered this conclusion involved 12 heavy drinkers. The participants were split into two groups, one group receiving a drink with a high amount of alcohol and the other receiving a drink with none. They were then asked to match a series of photographs of faces, with the emotions they expressed. It was found that the group of participants who had taken the alcoholic beverage had a reduced accuracy in processing the images of faces showing happy, angry or fearful expressions. While most of the expressions were hard for the alcohol group to associate with, it was found that there was more inaccuracy in faces with angry or fearful expressions. This meaning that the participants with alcohol in their system reacted more slowly or were not aware of the threat signals they normally would be, if they were sober.

This research has shed considerable light on the reasons why some drunken people become aggressive or exhibit strange behavior. It also points to some answers regarding the dangerous situations that are often experienced by people who have a habit of abusing alcohol. For women, there are a specific set of dangers when drunk in public places or with people they are not fully accustomed with. Since alcohol has been proven to lower the rate of response to threatening social cues, this allows for more chances that a male, or other woman could take advantage, that physical injury could occur or other dangerous situations. For men there are just as many risks. When inebriated boundaries are crossed and inhibitions get lower, people become more adventurous, and often reckless. Should an intoxicated person read social cues in the wrong way it can easily lead to accidents or serious mistakes.

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