Alcohol and attractiveness: Naturalistic study finds no evidence for the ‘beer goggles effect’

A recently published study failed to find evidence that drinking alcohol makes other people appear more attractive.

We’ve all heard of beer goggles: someone who isn’t attractive to you at the beginning of the night suddenly turns into the sexiest person you know at the end of it. The link between alcohol consumption and perceived attractiveness of other individuals has been coined as the “beer goggles effect” — increased alcohol consumption correlated to a higher perception of attractiveness.

The beer goggles effect has been studied thoroughly in laboratory settings; participants in these studies rated all faces, not just opposite-sex faces, as higher in attractiveness after consuming alcohol. This finding may indicate a “general positivity” after alcohol consumption. Another perception of attractiveness occurs when patrons perceive their fellow patrons to be more attractive right before closing time.

However, researchers in a study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism took this theory and investigated it in the field — in this case, three pubs of the same chain. These three pubs had similar food and drink items on the menu, as well as similar prices for those items. Three hundred and eleven male and female pub patrons were asked to rate 40 portraits (20 male, 20 female) and 20 landscape photographs as well as rating the “extent to which they believed they were intoxicated.” All 311 participants had their breath alcohol content (BrAC) measured using a breathalyzer. They consumed alcohol before the experiment, but not during it.

Lead researcher Olivia M. Maynard and her colleagues commented on the results of the study, saying “we find no clear evidence for relationships between alcohol consumption and perception of attractiveness… for faces specifically or for opposite-sex faces.” In fact, there was evidence that individuals with a higher BrAC found faces of the same-sex less attractive. There was also a lack of definite support for the closing time effect.

“Our study is important given the large sample size, the successful translation of an experimental, laboratory-based paradigm to a naturalistic drinking environment and the high level of public engagement with the study,” Maynard and her colleagues wrote.

Because this study was conducted in the field, there were some circumstances out of the researchers’ control. Participants in the study self-administered alcohol, and there was no control group (sober adults who participated in the study). For participants, there was a very small range of BrAC, which could have limited the range of results.

Researchers also did not ask participants to report their sexuality, which could have influenced rating the attractiveness of opposite-sex faces if some participants were not heterosexual. Nor did researchers require pub partons to report their relationship status or state of sexual arousal. All of these factors could have affected the current study, and should be considered when reading this article and the study. One final comment from the researchers includes a desire for more in-field studies to examine the situations in which the beer goggles effect would occur.

“Future studies should use similarly ecologically-valid methodologies to further explore the conditions under which this effect may be observed and identify whether it is indeed perceptions of attractiveness which change after consumption of alcohol, or motivations. A meta-analysis of the existing literature would provide further clarification regarding the strength of evidence supporting the relationship between alcohol consumption and perceptions of attractiveness,” the researchers concluded.

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