How does alcohol affect the ability to distinguish feelings?

For many people, happy hour is a time for cocktails and conversation, usually in that order. But alcohol consumption may affect appropriate social behavior by altering the strength of cognition. Researchers have studied how alcohol affects the ability not only to feel happy during happy hour but also to perceive positive or negative emotions from others.

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Micro breweries and micro expressions

In the local bar or cocktail parlour, one might not expect social drinkers to be particularly perceptive readers; Especially in the evening. Researchers who have studied this phenomenon admit that, apparently, after drinking alcohol, feelings are perceived differently.

Fatima Filisperti and Philip Terry (2015) studied the effect of alcohol on the ability to recognize facial expressions and subtle expressions.[i] They begin by recognizing facial expressions as important indicators of an individual’s emotional state, and being able to accurately recognize them as essential for successful navigation in an individual’s social environment. They list the six facial expressions of emotion generally accepted as universally recognized as: “happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust.” Note that some researchers include disdain as one of the basic expressions.

They compared the effect of alcohol on the ability to recognize subtle expressions, defined as “facial expressions briefly displayed for emotion”, with expressions displayed for longer periods of time. Of all the emotions, they found that drinking alcohol can increase sensitivity to expressions of disgust and contempt.

Reading feelings after immersion

Philisperti and Terry did not drink beer study participants; They consumed Waitrose vodka (37 percent alcohol by volume) with Schweppes’ Indian water-fortified system and Angostura Peters. After consuming a higher dose of alcohol, a lower dose, or a placebo drink, participants viewed the facial expressions of 12 male actors expressing anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, and sadness, as well as neutral faces.

Felisberti and Terry found that displaying subtle expressions resulted in a significant interaction between the emotion depicted by the actor and the amount of alcohol consumed by the viewer. They noted that the recognition of disgust was low when compared to the recognition of other emotions, but after a high dose of alcohol (0.6 or 0.57 g/kg for men and women, respectively) participants were more able to recognize disgust and contempt than the other. two conditions. Felisberti and Terry found that the ability to recognize subtle expressions of anger was reduced after both doses of alcohol compared to a placebo drink, but not significantly. In contrast to some previous studies, they did not detect any impairment in grief perception.

Social drinking and discrimination

Filisberti and Terry describe alcohol’s ability to improve the accuracy of recognizing disgust and contempt as surprising and note that it may have effects on social behavior. For example, they note that an increased sensitivity to expressing disdain after drinking alcohol in a social setting may have harmful consequences as it may increase the risk of alcohol-related aggression. They note that their findings are consistent with those of others who have expressed concerns about the effect of alcohol on processing facial expressions, and how it might be linked to its effects on violence and aggression.

The bottom line is that alcohol apparently impairs and enhances social cues. People who meet their friends and co-workers at happy hour are advised, in addition to the usual warnings about drinking and driving, to drink responsibly until they act appropriately. Sound judgment is always best practice.

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