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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About Neuroskeptic

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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