Group Dynamics: The Influence of Drinking in a Bar Setting

  Drinking, which is one of the most common forms of bar involvement, cannot be understood without looking at the context in which it occurs.  This is best achieved by examining the bar situation, and in particular how group dynamics influence individual drinking.  Although the different types of bars vary widely, the drinking patterns that happen inside show tend to show consistency (Prus 1983).
    Although the main purpose of bars is to sell drinks, they function as a place for people to gather socially.  Prus calls bars small communities with “friendships and animosities, exchanges and barters, politicizing and gaming, recreation and work, intimacy and distancing, gossip and reputations, and deviance and control.”  Fitting in and feeling comfortable in the setting are important elements affecting an individual’s drinking behavior. The regulars of a bar, besides being a staple to the business, define the atmosphere of any given bar.  The staff of a bar has little influence of people’s perception of a bar compared to how well one feels they fit in with the regulars at a bar.
    Group pressure can overcome people’s’ disinclination towards bars.  Often times, people with strong reservations against bars will end up at one because of coercion from other members of their group.  There is a series of compromises when deciding which bar to go to, and many group members end up going to a bar they would never pick on their own.  (Prus 1983).
    Once through the door, the presence of a group influences drinking in many ways.  The decision to drink or not drink is often a result of peer pressure.  It has been shown in many studies that group size has a positive correlation with the amount of alcohol consumed (Hennessy 1993).  In addition, the amount of heavy drinking increases with the increase of these factors: the average consumption of the group, the proportion of young men in the group, and the length of time the group stays in the bar (Sykes 1993).
    These facts show that the amount drank in bars is not so much a personal variable as it is a result of the influence of groups. In an in-depth research study, social psychologist Robert Prus took a close look at some of the factors that contribute to the group’s influence.  To begin with, some people may not want to drink at all, but it is seen by others as a “favor” to make sure someone has a drink.  Individuals are urged to have a “good time” by means of consuming alcohol.  Many times the decision to stay sober is seen as deviant, and people are often asked “what’s wrong” if they choose to abstain. It was found that an element of prestige, applying mostly to men, is awarded to those who can drink a lot as long as they can “hold their liquor” and not become an embarrassment.   In addition, “buying rounds” is a practice that contributes to people drinking more than they planned.  People often do not decline from participating in this out of fear of seeming rude to the peer group, but then have to keep the pace often set by the fastest, heaviest drinker.  In general, there is much more support for drinking in bars than not drinking.  Discouragement from drinking is much more likely to be censored than encouragement for drinking.  (1983).
    From this research it can be concluded that conformity  plays a major role in overcoming people's disinhibitions to drink.  Perhaps this is part of the reason drinking is so prevelant on college campuses.  Resisting group pressure is not as easy or simple as it sounds.
    In addition to others contributing to higher consumption of alcohol, the subjective effects of alcohol are also influenced by the presence of others.  In a controlled laboratory setting, participants were put in a group setting and engaged in drinking.  Some participants were given a placebo drink containing no alcohol, but yet still reported physical sensations corresponding to alcohol consumption.  It was concluded that people are more likely to see the effects in others and infer these effects in themselves when in a group drinking context (Sher 1985).
     Bars demonstrate a number of group dynamics.  It is a place of social gathering and a place to drink.  Drinking is a social activity that cannot be understood without looking at the social context in which it occurs.  It is found that the amount an individual drinks has more to do with the group they are with than their personal limits.  Other people can also influence an individual’s subjective feeling of alcohol.  These factors make bars an interesting social setting with unique norms for behavior.


Beginning Page

Group Dynamics

Lying and Deception

Alcohol-Induced Behavior


This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 2000 at Miami University.  All graphics are from the public domain, used with permission, or were created by the authors. Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).   Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 16:49:50. This document has been accessed 1times since 1 May 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman