Strangers who drink together may maintain social distance at first, but they grow closer and closer physically as they become intoxicated with alcohol, according to a new study .
These and other conclusions drawn from the study may have applications in social distancing measures for the current pandemic .
Alcohol among friends
To test how social familiarity influences drinking behavior, the researchers asked study subjects to bring a friend who would also participate in the study. The 212 young and healthy social drinkers were assigned to different experimental conditions.
In half of the cases, the participants drank with a friend. In the other half, they drank with another participant’s friend, a stranger. Couples were assigned to consume alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.
The researchers videotaped the interactions of each pair, measuring the distance between people through machine learning methods that detect the position of each person’s hands, arms, legs and head in the video. A bit of geometry was also used to convert the pixel coordinates of the people detected in the video into real-world distances based on objects of known size visible in the video.
Friends tended to get close to each other regardless of whether they consumed alcohol or not. But participants who interacted with a stranger only approached that individual if they were intoxicated. The physical distance between these pairs decreased by approximately 1 centimeter per three-minute interval . Those who drank non-alcoholic beverages with strangers did not come significantly close to each other during the experiment.
This study, then, shows that over time, alcohol reduces the physical distance between people who do not know each other previously.
This finding is particularly important in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic because it suggests that alcohol could facilitate the transmission of the virus and prevent adherence to social distancing guidelines.