Being in a group when drinking moderate amounts of alcohol makes people view risk more cautiously, a new study has found.
Psychologists from the University of Kent and the University of East Anglia found that individuals who consume moderate amounts of alcohol in social situations are likely to view risky situations with greater caution when considering them as part of a group.
Researchers asked Kent students who were drinking in groups in bars and at a music festival at its Canterbury campus to decide what levels of risk they thought was acceptable before recommending someone should take various actions.
They accepted a higher level of risk when they were drinking and deciding alone, rather than when they were drinking and deciding in a group of others.
In the study, 101 participants aged 18-30 who were in groups were approached to take part. The researchers compared groups of people who were just under the drink-driving limit with groups that had not consumed any alcohol.
The participants first gave their private judgements about how much risk they would accept before recommending a potentially risky action - for example, whether it would be acceptable to drive to collect a friend from an airport after drinking.
They then re-joined the group and discussed a second problem and the group had to agree how much risk would be acceptable.
"When intoxicated, it is known that people are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, including the use of illicit drugs, engaging in violent and other criminal activity and driving at dangerous speeds," said Dr Tim Hopthrow, of Kent's Centre for the Study of Group Processes.
"Our findings confirmed that individual risk decisions are increased by higher alcohol consumption.
"Our previous research, which had been conducted in laboratory conditions, showed that effects of alcohol consumption that affect people drinking alone, such as becoming riskier, are reduced or eliminated when people make judgements together with other drinkers in a group.
"We wanted to establish whether this would hold true in real drinking situations outside the laboratory, such as a bar or concert, where there are many other influences at work.
"Our findings showed that, even in these natural settings, social interaction in groups can reduce the tendency of individual drinkers to accept risks.
"Alcohol consumers accepted more risk when deciding alone but the least risk when deciding as a group. We think that this is because drinkers in groups monitor one another closely, becoming more cautious when directly asked whether to take a risk," he said.
The study is published in the journal Addiction.