A beer at the pub down the road could be the key to improved mental health.
While a plethora of studies have focused on the negative effects of alcohol on the psyche a new report commissioned by brewing giant Lion has produced surprising results about the benefits of enjoying a pint or two at the local hotel or bar.
With the title of Where Everyone Knows Your Name – a take on the line from the Cheers TV series – the research has been conducted by Dr Peter Jonason, who has a PHD in psychology from New Mexico State University and is currently a senior lecturer in evolutionary psychology at Western Sydney University.
Now it is naturally in Lion’s best interests to promote establishments selling their beer. However, Dr Jonason has backed his claims with a slew of statistics and evidence from around the country and from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), which looks after the interests of UK pubs.
“We contend that locals are an underappreciated-yet-fundamental part of Australian culture that serve community and personal needs efficiently,” wrote Dr Jonason.
“Locals are “old school’ solutions that better solve people’s fundamental, and even desperate, need for social contact and to feel like they are part of a group than the modern technologies designed to create a greater sense of community and to help one meet new people (such as dating applications).
“Despite legitimate concerns about alcohol overconsumption we argue that locals – on the whole – improve psychological health and are associated with a greater sense of community.”
In the key sections such as satisfaction with life, self-community trust, interpersonal trust and extraversion (the sense of obtaining gratification from outside oneself) those who attended pubs scored higher than those who avoided them.
One of the key elements in the report is the study of how, over time, old-school corded telephones, television, smartphones, internet and apps have been a poor replacement for human contact.
“These technological solutions all act to augment the diminishing amount of in-person social interactions people are getting in modern times and that humans are wired to need,” wrote Dr Jonason.
“For centuries, people did not have the option to turn to their phones or TV and yet, they were successful in life and not walking around with clinical depression.
“Locals also provide the potential for one feature all the technological substitutes lack; physical contact. Touch is fundamentally important for the psychological development of mammals, including monkeys and people.
“Locals are likely a place where people can seek out social support, via physical contact and intimate interactions, when they have nowhere and no one else to turn to; lending a helping hand in a way.”
As part of the report Dr Jonason sampled 1232 people from all Australian States and assessed their psychological and physical health, their social connectedness and personality.
While there was a near 50-50 gender split, the average age of the subjects was 46 years although the vintages ranged from 18 to 88.
“Overall we found that those with locals consumed more alcohol (approximately seven drinks per week) than those who did not, but they had greater life satisfaction, and were not less psychologically healthy overall than those without a local,” said Dr Jonason.
The study found beer was the preferred beverage of people who attended a local with almost half seeking a brew as opposed to wine, spirits, cider or soft drink.
Even the UK has recognised the psychological benefits of the local pub. Earlier this month Conservative MP Mike Wood championed the venues in a speech in the House of Commons.
“Is the Secretary of State aware of the research published by the University of Oxford’s Robin Dunbar, which found that people who have a local pub that they visit regularly tend to be more socially engaged and to have better mental health?” Wood asked.
“Will he join me in welcoming the measures announced by the Chancellor to support pubs and brewing, which will help to tackle loneliness and isolation?”
The key findings from the Australian Where Everyone Knows Your Name report were –
People who have a local are more trusting and satisfied with life;
They have broader friendship and support networks and identify more closely with their community;
Most people who have a local use it for socialising and drinking with other people. Only 6% who had a local said they drank there alone;
Women and men appear to socialise in their locals in different ways with men more likely to engage in intimate conversations and women more likely to converse in larger groups;
Those who lived in rural areas, who were light/moderate drinkers, and had a local, had greater general mental health and less anxiety than those without a local.