Participants in the study were paired with either friends or another participant they did not previously know in order to examine interactions between each pair while they consumed alcohol.
After reviewing video footage of each pair, researchers from the University of Illinois found that the physical distance between stranger pairs decreased by about one centimetre every three minutes.
It also found that friends tended to draw close to one another, whether or not they consumed alcohol, but strangers only moved closer to one another if they were intoxicated.
The study suggests there may be some truth in the government’s argument last year to impose a 10pm curfew on pubs, when it said people were less likely to follow social distancing guidelines as they become intoxicated over time.
The study’s lead author Laura Gurrieri, a researcher in psychology at the university, said: “This study shows that over time, alcohol reduces physical distance between people who are not previously acquainted.
“This finding is particularly important in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic because it suggests that alcohol might facilitate virus transmission and impede the following of social distancing guidelines.”
Catharine Fairbarn, who led the research, noted that the participants’ ability to move closer to one another was limited as they sat across from one another at a table.
The study was also conducted in a quiet, spacious laboratory and not a bar with other people present.
“Folks would be likely to draw even closer to one another in a crowded bar with loud music when compared with our laboratory environment,” she said.
“That would have to be the subject of another study.”
It comes as prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that England will be moving into the next stage of lockdown easing from 17 May, which means restaurants, pubs and cafes can welcome customers indoors once again.
The government also confirmed that hugging was permitted once again as the Covid alert level drops from four to three.
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