The Myth of Beer Goggles?

By Neuroskeptic | August 20, 2015 6:32 am

A new study casts doubt on the idea that alcohol causes people to seem more attractive – the famous “beer goggles” effect.

Psychologists Olivia Maynard and colleauges, of Bristol, UK, conducted an unusual “real world” experiment.  Rather than doing their testing in the laboratory, they went into three Bristol pubs in the evening (5-11 pm) and recruited volunteers on the spot. With a total sample size of 311, it was a very large sample.

Each participant was breathalyzed to estimate their blood alcohol level, and then asked to rate the attractiveness of a series of people via photographs.

It turns out there’s no correlation between breath alcohol (BrAC) and rated attractiveness.

beergoggles

In other words, people who’d drunk more were not in fact any more likely to find the faces attractive, either for opposite-sex or same-sex faces.

So why not? Maynard et al. note that their results conflict with previous studies, including one from their own group, that did find a beer goggle effect. They say that

An important difference between these laboratory experiments and the present naturalistic study is the self-administration ofalcohol here, as compared with random allocation to alcohol or placebo conditions in laboratory experiments.

In other words, whereas alcohol may have an effect on perception of attractiveness under controlled conditions, this effect just isn’t strong enough to be detectable in real-world conditions in which there are many other influences present.

Maynard et al. also note that breath alcohol levels were relatively low in this study, and that higher doses might exert bigger effects.

Either way, this is an interesting study, and I think we need more of these naturalistic experiments. It must also have been a fun study to participate in. Although perhaps not quite as good as the social psychologists who went to a sex club to naturalistically measure men’s testosterone levels.

ResearchBlogging.orgMaynard, O., Skinner, A., Troy, D., Attwood, A., & Munafò, M. (2015). Association of Alcohol Consumption with Perception of Attractiveness in a Naturalistic Environment Alcohol and Alcoholism DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agv096

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  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/101046916407340625977/posts Rolf Degen

    But there is also one famous naturalistic study that shows drinking makes the status quo seem more attractive:

    http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/03/16/0146167212439213.abstract

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Mythbusters, “beer goggles,” 2:40 summary. “Plausible” Mythbusters shows what can be done by people who know what they are doing.

    http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/beer-goggles-minimyth/

  • flyover007

    nerds. sigh. Anyone who has ever woke up with someone they would have never gone home with sober, knows the truth. Alcohol doesn’t make the woman appear more attractive, it makes the man not care.

  • philconl

    311 – a very large sample – hahaha
    rated PICTURES

    Now far be it from me to claim pictures are 3D or 36D breathing, touchable, hair flinging, full of motion, “attractive”.

    The study is such a pathetic, bad, joke, failed simulation.

    Pictures – not even moving videos – that would perhaps take into account some of the hazy, blurred, dizzy vision effects of drunkenness.

    It seems to me the researchers of today decide what would be outrageously fun and totally stupid, then the public pays for it “in the name of research and science” – and there appears to be hundreds of these occurrences daily.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Well it’s true that pictures aren’t ideal, but pictures are how Tinder works and that seems pretty popular.

      • Nacho Sanguinetti

        Sure but Tinder is a different context. Males rating Tinder women for attractiveness act upon the supposition that those pictures correspond realistically to potential partners. I think that is the problem with this study, there is no real expectation of hooking up with the pictures. Beer goggles are about sex more than about attractiveness perception, If there is no possibility of sex there may be no effect. Nobody has beer goggles in a non sexual way. I think beer goggles are more related to increased libido, disinhibition, desperation? Lol

  • Iain Park

    Na, combine it with the desire to get laid.
    Photos are unobtainable, that woman over there however …

    So a proper study would involve a sampling of attractiveness of others with the same volunteers with the same subjects over time. No using shills, they aren’t there to get laid and it shows.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Or what about using Tinder – because in that case it’s about photos but the people are attainable (potentially anyway). See whether alcohol increases likeliness to swipe left vs. right…

  • CL

    I think it is standards plummeting rather than attractiveness soaring…

    A more interesting result is that the Bristol pub goers seem to be a rather openminded crown, with same sex rated slightly higher (?) than opposite sex.

  • smut clyde

    alcohol causes people to seem more attractive

    I drink enough, I seem more attractive. Are you telling me that there is evidence to the contrary?

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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