A new study that investigated the effect that drinking alcohol has on men’s perceptions of attractiveness may have disproven one well-known drinking-related phenomenon while providing supporting evidence for another. The researchers say the findings have implications for clinicians and researchers.
If someone is wearing “beer goggles,” they’re said to be more likely to find other people, whom they wouldn’t ordinarily find appealing, more attractive because they’re drunk. Often, the term is used following a regrettable one-night stand.
A new study from researchers at the Stanford Prevention Research Center has found that beer goggles may not actually be a thing, but that another well-known, alcohol-induced condition – “liquid courage” – could be.
“The well-known beer goggles effect of alcohol does sometimes appear in the literature but not as consistently as one might expect,” said Michael Sayette, one of the two authors of the study.
The researchers recruited 18 pairs of male friends aged 21 to 27 and had them attend two laboratory sessions where they consumed either alcohol (vodka and cranberry juice) or a non-alcoholic (cranberry juice only) beverage. In the alcohol-drinking session, participants drank up to a blood alcohol concentration of around 0.08%, the legal limit for driving in the US.
The participants were then asked to rate the perceived physical attractiveness (PPA) of images of males or females, depending on their sexual orientation, using a Likert scale. They were also asked to choose the four individuals they considered most attractive from the images – their ‘top four’ – who they’d potentially like to interact with in a future study.
The researchers found that between the drinking and control groups, PPA ratings were similar and unaffected by alcohol intake, appearing to rule out the beer goggles effect. They did note, however, that after drinking, participants were 1.71 times more likely to select one of their ‘top four’ to interact with than when they were sober.
The study’s findings suggest that rather than altering perceptions of attractiveness, alcohol increases a person’s confidence, giving them the liquid courage to pursue interactions with others they find attractive.
The researchers say the findings need to be replicated but have implications for clinicians and researchers. For example, if alcohol enhances the likelihood of interacting with more attractive people, a greater reward may be derived from social interactions while intoxicated, which may, in turn, shed light on the processes underlying risky sexual behaviors.
“People who drink alcohol may benefit by recognizing that valued social motivations and intentions change when drinking in ways that may be appealing in the short term but possibly harmful in the long term,” said Molly Bowdring, the study’s other author.
The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.