The Effects of Alcohol on Positive Emotion during a Comedy Routine: A Facial Coding Analysis

Michael A. Sayette, Kasey G. Creswell, Catharine E. Fairbairn, John D. Dimoff, B. Katlin, L. Talya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


There is considerable interest in understanding the emotional effects of alcohol. While a great deal of experimental research has focused on alcohols ability to relieve negative emotions, there has been far less focus on the effects of alcohol on positive emotions. Further, the available research on positive emotion tends to test alcohol while participants are alone. Yet alcohol is often consumed in social settings, and enhancing social pleasure is consistently identified as being a primary motive for drinking. We aimed to address this gap in the literature by investigating the impact of alcohol on positive emotional experience in a social setting. We used the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to examine in a large sample the effects of alcohol on response to comedy in a group setting. Five hundred thirteen social drinkers (51.9% female) were assembled into groups of three unacquainted persons and administered either a moderate dose of alcohol, a placebo, or a nonalcohol control beverage. Following beverage consumption, groups listened to a roughly 5-min comedy clip while their facial expressions were video recorded. More than 5 million frames of video were then FACS-coded. Alcohol consumption enhanced enjoyment (Duchenne) smiles-but not nonenjoyment social smiles-and elevated mood ratings. Results provide multimodal evidence supporting the ability of alcohol to enhance positive emotional experience during a comedy routine delivered in a social context. More broadly, this research illustrates the value of studying emotion in a social context using both self-report and behavior-expressive approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)480-488
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Alcohol
  • Comedy
  • Emotion
  • Facial expression
  • Humor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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