Does booze really make people seem sexier? ‘Beer goggles’ observed after low, but not high, alcohol consumption

In a recent study, researchers have confirmed what many have believed to be true for decades: alcohol affects our judgments of others attractiveness. However, it seems that this “beer goggles” effect only happens when we drink a moderate, but not high, amount of alcohol.

Published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, this study recruited heterosexual college-age students who regularly consumed alcohol and were in good mental and physical health. Each male participant was shown 50 pairs of female faces, and each female participant was shown 50 pairs of male faces. Participants were then asked to choose which face was more attractive and rate how much more attractive this face was.

Results indicated that participants who drank a low amount of alcohol (about 250 ml, or 8.5 oz. of wine) rated the photos as more attractive overall than participants who were sober. Surprisingly, those who drank a high amount of alcohol (about 500 ml, or 17 oz. of wine) did not rate the faces as more attractive than participants who drank a low amount. These differences were observed for both men and women, who did not show any differences in their ratings.

In addition, the researchers edited some of the face images to look more intoxicated (i.e. more flushed). Participants who drank a low amount of alcohol actually rated faces of intoxicated individuals as more attractive than the sober (less flushed) faces. The opposite was true of participants who were sober or had drank a high amount of alcohol—these participants rated sober faces as more attractive. The authors said, “This suggests that any effects of alcohol consumption on the perceived attractiveness of consumers only occur within a relatively narrow window of consumption.”

These findings suggest that some of alcohol consumption influences our judgments of others’ attractiveness. However, drinking more alcohol does not increase this effect—participants who drank a large amount of alcohol actually had ratings more similar to the sober participants’ ratings. This effect was even greater when rating faces of slightly intoxicated individuals. Together, these two effects may account for much of the “beer goggles” effect observed in everyday life.

In the recently published paper, the authors suggest this effect, “may play a role in the relationship between alcohol consumption and risky sexual behavior.” Further research on this topic will help us better understand the “beer goggles” phenomenon, helping better develop education programs and policies regarding alcohol consumption and decision-making.