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Beer Goggles: They're For Real

Imagine a world where videos combining science, beer, and relationships were popular on the Internet. Well, a recent video from the BBC describing research on the so-called “beer-goggles effect” makes this world a reality. For you teetotalers, beer-goggles refers to the belief that intoxicated individuals find members of the opposite sex to be more attractive, most likely because alcohol lowers inhibitions, thus resulting in lowered minimal acceptable standards for a potential (short-term) mate. Put another way, alcohol may increase the number of people we find to be attractive, which increases our chances of finding a partner (at least that night).   

The BBC story is based on research from a 1998 Alcohol & Alcoholism paper by Marcus Munafò and colleagues out of the University of Bristol.1 In a controlled laboratory setting (i.e., not a bar), heterosexual male and female participants were randomly assigned to consume alcohol (lime-flavored vodka tonic) or a placebo (lime-flavored tonic) and then rate the attractiveness of 20 male and 20 female faces. The participants then rated the same set of photos 24 hours later.

Guess what? The beer-goggle effect is real, and is actually more powerful than many assume. Not only did the vodka-drinking participants rate the opposite-sex faces as more attractive than those that did not drink alcohol, but they also rated the faces of same-sex participants as more attractive as well! Interestingly, similar studies conducted in bars don’t find the effect for same-sex ratings, most likely because bars elicit individuals’ mating goals (i.e., folks are on the prowl for a potential partner). But when you remove the mating cues provided by a bar-like setting, alcohol appears to increase everyone’s attractiveness. Talk about a social lubricant! Moreover, men who imbibed, but not women, still had elevated attractiveness ratings of female faces 24 hours later. We’ll leave it to you to gauge whether or not that is an adaptive process. Now, the specific mechanism by which perceived attractiveness is increased is a bit unclear, but the researchers suggest that rather than lowering inhibitions, alcohol may increase perceptions of others’ symmetry (remember: symmetry is good). The study’s authors discuss this idea in the video linked above. Happy viewing, and bottoms up!

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1Parker, L. L., Penton-Voak, I. S., Attwood, A. S., Munafò, M. R. (2008). Effects of acute alcohol consumption on ratings of attractiveness of facial stimuli: Evidence of long-term encoding. Alcohol & Alcholism, 43, 636-640.

Dr. Tim Loving - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Loving's research addresses the mental and physical health impact of relationship transitions (e.g., falling in love, breaking up) and the role of friends and family during these transitions. He is an Associate Editor of Personal Relationships and has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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