Alcohol narrows physical distance between strangers
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In a study with pandemic-related implications, researchers report that strangers who consume alcohol together may keep their distance initially—but draw physically closer as they become intoxicated. They report the new findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To test how social familiarity influences drinking behavior, the researchers asked study subjects to each bring a friend who would also participate in the study. The 212 young, healthy social drinkers were assigned to different experimental conditions. In half of the cases, participants drank with a friend and in the other half, they drank with the friend of another participant. The pairs were assigned to consume either alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages.

Researchers measured the distance between the individuals via machine-learning methods that detect hands, arms, legs, and head position for each person in the video.

--Friends tended to draw close to one another whether or not they consumed alcohol.

--But participants interacting with a stranger only moved closer to that individual if they were intoxicated. The physical distance between these pairs decreased by about 1 centimeter per three-minute interval.

--Those who drank nonalcoholic beverages with strangers did not draw significantly closer to one another during the experiment, the team found.

This finding is particularly important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic because it suggests that alcohol might facilitate virus transmission and impede the following of social distancing guidelines.

Source: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2101937118
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