A dynamic analysis of the effect of alcohol consumption on humor enjoyment in a social context

Catharine E. Fairbairn, Brynne A. Velia, Kasey G. Creswell, Michael A. Sayette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many social interactions involve alcohol consumption, and drinking alcohol can lead to powerful increases in enjoyment in these social contexts. Yet we know almost nothing of the means by which alcohol enhances social experience. Importantly, since individuals in social contexts not only respond to environmental conditions, but can also actively generate these conditions, understanding alcohol's social enhancement within wholly unstructured social interaction presents challenges. To address this issue, the current study examines responses of individuals participating in a structured pleasurable experience in social context (humor presentation)—a drinking context with ecological-validity that permits us to test theories of alcohol-related social-enhancement through isolating responses to the controlled presentation of pleasurable stimuli (i.e., comedy punchlines). Participants (N = 513) were randomly-assigned to consume an alcoholic, placebo, or control beverage in the laboratory. Participants were video-recorded during presentation of a comedy routine in 3-person groups, and participants' Duchenne smiles were recorded on a frame-by-frame basis using the Facial Action Coding System. Comedy punchlines were coded by five raters and validated via an independently collected sample of participants (N = 30). Results of nested frailty survival models, controlling for the smiles of other group members, indicated a significant interaction between punchlines and alcohol in predicting smiles. Specifically, alcohol selectively increased smiling during times when no humorous stimuli were being presented, whereas there was no significant effect of alcohol on smiling in response to the humorous stimuli themselves. Findings highlight the importance of less intrinsically entertaining social moments for understanding alcohol-related social enhancement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103903
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Alcohol
  • Emotions
  • Facial expressions
  • Humor
  • Social context

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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