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30th Aug 2023

‘Beer goggles’ study finds alcohol does not make people seem better looking

Steve Hopkins

You’re just going to have to own it!

It turns out men invented beer goggles and beauty really isn’t in the eye of the beer holder.

Scientists have called time on the expression often used by people – men – to excuse them from behaviour they might find unattractive in the harsh light of day i.e. a regrettable one-night stand, or just someone they might not be comfortable introducing to their mates.

Beer goggles, it was often thought, made people appear more attractive.

But while researchers questioned the accuracy of the term, they did find drink does arm people with “liquid courage” to approach attractive people.

The new research, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found the term ‘beer goggles’ was coined by male North American university students in the 1980s.

Despite shed-loads of anecdotal evidence to support the phenomenon, the link between alcohol intoxication and physical attraction has never been properly studied.

Previous research, which has typically involved asking people to rate other people’s attractiveness by assessing photos when sober and intoxicated, has produced mixed results.

Professor Molly Bowdring at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in Palo Alto, California, who led the latest research, said those students, taken together, found that if the ‘beer goggles effect’ did exist, its influence was minor.

The new study – Beer Goggles or Liquid Courage? Alcohol, Attractiveness Perceptions, and Partner Selection Among Men – added an additional dimension in the hope of painting a fuller picture. This time participants were lured with the possibility of meeting some of the people they’d ranked.

“By making participants believe that the pictures they were viewing were of people they could choose to interact with in the future, the research team have added a nice element of realism, which has been missing from previous research in this area,” Rebecca Monk, a professor of psychology at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, Lancashire, who was not involved in the study, added.

“Their paradigm also allows for an exploration of the liquid courage adage rather than solely the so-called beer goggles phenomenon.”

For the latest study, Bowdring and professor Michael Sayette of the University of Pittsburgh, invited 18 pairs of male friends into the lab to rate the attractiveness of men and women in photos and videos. The men were in pairs to further replicate true social settings.

On one occasion, both men were given enough vodka and cranberry juice to raise their blood alcohol concentration to about 0.08% – the legal limit for driving in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and many US states – and on the other, they both received a non-alcoholic beverage.

After providing attractiveness ratings for the photos, they were asked to select which of these individuals they would most like to interact with in a future experiment.

The research found that alcohol did not make people think others’ were more attractive.

Bowdring said, however, that researchers did find that “people were more likely to select to interact with the people they perceived to be most attractive after consuming alcohol.”

Drunk participants were 1.71 times more likely to select one of their top four attractive candidates to potentially meet in a future study, compared with when they were sober.

“Their findings essentially suggest that while intoxication may not have resulted in beer goggles, it did seem to increase liquid courage, in that people were more likely to indicate a desire to interact with attractive others,” said Monk, whose previous research had found some evidence to support the beer goggles effect.

She suggested people reflect on how they can drink in a way that’s “safe and consistent” with their goals and added they should recognise that “social motivations and intentions change when drinking, in ways that may be appealing in the short term but possibly harmful in the long term.”

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