Last year I wrote about a new beer that had been developed called The Problem Solver. The theory behind the drink was that our creativity levels peak when we have a certain level of alcohol in our system, which is just the amount provided by the bottle.
Trendy start-ups aside, however, the idea of having alcohol to lubricate important meetings at work is not something that has really caught on. A recent study from a team of Chinese and Singaporean academics suggests that it may be worth reassessing. It found that a limited amount of alcohol can have beneficial impacts upon negotiations at work.
I Love You
Participants in the study were given a small 350ml cup of beer and then asked to participate in a bargaining game whereby players were given some money to use to bargain with their peer. If an agreement was reached, the two players would combine their money, multiply the sum by 1.2 as a reward for cooperation, and then share it equally between them. In other words, it benefitted both parties if they collaborated, especially in the long-term.
This wasn’t always the case in the short-run of course. For instance, if one party had a large sum and the other a small sum, then cooperating would result in less money for the player with a lot to begin with.
As a result of this, cooperation was most common when players had a small sum of money, but less common when they had a large endowment. This behavior would, of course, give opponents a clear cue as to the money held by their peer, thus influencing their own behavior.
Helping Us to Cooperate
When the results were analyzed, it emerged that the most collaboration tended to occur between two players who had had a drink of beer of roughly equivalent to half of the drunk driving limit in the UK.
Interestingly, this did appear to be a bona fide phenomenon, with no such spike seen in the group who were given a placebo to trick them into thinking they had drunk some beer. Likewise, the gains in collaboration were not found to be a result of other factors such as mood, altruism levels or risk aversion amongst participants.
So what was happening? The researchers suggest that the alcohol altered how players were thinking about the stance of their peers in the game so that players were less cynical in their approach.
“In settings in which skepticism can lead to a breakdown in negotiation, alcohol consumption can make people drop their guard for each others’ actions, thus facilitating reaching an agreement,” the authors say.
It should hopefully go without saying that there is a finite amount of alcohol that can seemingly produce these benefits, and it doesn’t take much more for things to go downhill pretty quickly.
So the researchers are at pains to point out that we should use alcohol at work with caution. Nonetheless, it seems as though a small tipple here and there may actually be beneficial.