Boost for pubs as psychologists declare them force for good
Local pubs like the Queen Vic in EastEnders play a vital role in spreading social cohesion and contentment, a study has found.
Despite the famous TV drinking den so often setting the stage for angry confrontation and tears, its real-life counterparts are forces for good, say psychologists.
Scientists found that people who have a "local" where they regularly meet to drink and socialise tend to be happier and more engaged with other members of their community than those who do not.
Those lacking a local pub had significantly smaller social networks and felt less trusting of their neighbours.
Lead researcher Professor Robin Dunbar, from Oxford University's experimental psychology department, said: "This study showed that frequenting a local pub can directly affect peoples' social network size and how engaged they are with their local community, which in turn can affect how satisfied they feel in life.
"Our social networks provide us with the single most important buffer against mental and physical illness. While pubs traditionally have a role as a place for community socialising, alcohol's role appears to be in triggering the endorphin system, which promotes social bonding.
"Like other complex bonding systems such as dancing, singing and storytelling, it has often been adopted by large social communities as a ritual associated with bonding."
Data were combined from three separate investigations - a questionnaire-based study of pub-goers, an analysis of conversational behaviour in pubs, and a national survey by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).
The scientists looked to see how social experiences and levels of well-being were influenced by frequency of alcohol consumption and types of venue people visited.
They found that those who drank in local pubs tended to socialise in smaller circles of friends, which encouraged chit-chat between all the group members.
People who frequented city centre bars were usually part of much larger gatherings and participated less in whole-group conversation.
Camra's national chairman Colin Valentine said: "Personal well-being and happiness have a massive impact not only on individual lives, but on communities as a whole.
"It will be of no surprise to Camra members that pubs play such a pivotal role in a person's wellbeing, but it is fantastic news to hear that this wisdom has now been confirmed by research.
"Pubs play a unique role in offering a social environment to enjoy a drink with friends in a responsible, supervised community setting. For this reason, we all need to do what we can to ensure that everyone has a 'local' near to where they live or work."
With 21 pubs closing across the UK each week, it was vital to strengthen planning protection for pubs, he added.
The research is published in the journal Adaptive Human Behaviour and Physiology.