Drinking your way from glasses to goggles

Blame it on the alcohol—according to a new study, a shot at love might be a pint closer than you think

According to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, participants found a computerized slideshow of male and female faces 10 per cent more attractive after consuming just one alcoholic drink.
According to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, participants found a computerized slideshow of male and female faces 10 per cent more attractive after consuming just one alcoholic drink.

of being excessively drunk by a passerby, Winston Churchill is said to have replied some variation of the quote: “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” Although wildly distasteful, Churchill was on to something, and may have been one of the originators of a cultural phenomenon that continues to intrigue partygoers well into 2009.

Throughout the years, many people have been introduced to an accessory that directly accompanies the consumption of alcohol and alters one’s vision of his or her surroundings. After a few pints, it can be considered your best friend—or your worst enemy—the next morning: beer goggles.

‘Beer goggles’ is a slang term for the idea that the consumption of alcohol lowers sexual inhibitions and results in little or no discretion when pursuing a sexual partner. Beer goggles derive their name from the goggle-like effect they have on your vision, clouding the appearance of potential mates. In plain English, beer goggles have been reported to make people better looking—at least for a few hours.

Beer goggles have their longstanding place in popular culture. From Sex and the City to Knocked Up, beer goggles have rooted themselves deep in the structure of social interaction. Yet surprisingly, the question hasn’t been given much scientific attention. And so the question stands: are beer goggles a scientific phenomenon, or merely an exaggerated urban legend?

According to a study by the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, researchers have concluded what many people have been claiming for years—beer goggles do in fact exist.

The study, originally published in the Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism, was led by experimental psychologist Marcus Munafò and tested the effect of excessive consumption of alcohol on participants’ sensibility.

“We were interested in the role of drugs such as alcohol in social processes, and in particular social cognition; that is, now we interpret emotions and other cues in facial expressions,” Munafò said.

He said the study’s participants, over 80 male and female university students, were randomly assigned to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, with the alcoholic drink adjusted to the weight of the individual at 0.4 grams per kilogram.

“The alcoholic drink contained the equivalent of about two pints of beer and was a vodka and tonic flavoured with lime,” he said. “The non-alcoholic drink was an equivalent volume of tonic water flavoured with lime.”

After about 15 minutes, the participants viewed a computerized slideshow of 40 faces of both males and females and were asked to rate the photos for attractiveness on a seven-point scale, Munafò said.

“As little as a pint and a half of beer can produce the effect, and after a vigorous night of drinking, one’s beer goggles can last for up to 24 hours,” he said.

After as little as one alcoholic drink, the participants found the photos 10 per cent more attractive than the participants who unknowingly consumed the placebo.

Munafò said his research group wasn’t surprised that the consumption of alcohol lowered the inhibitions of the study’s participants, but found it interesting that the effect wasn’t specific to the opposite sex.

“We had observed that [heterosexual] men found other men more attractive with higher dosages of alcohol,” he said. “We explicitly recruited self-reported heterosexual participants because we were interested in whether any effects of alcohol would be specific to the opposite sex. The fact that they weren’t suggests that alcohol has more general effects on ratings of attractiveness.” Munafò said the results of the study could also suggest alcohol consumption may increase the attractiveness of any given visual stimuli, not just human faces.

“We’re running a follow-up study at the moment where we’re including landscape images, where it makes sense to ask whether these are attractive or beautiful,” he said. “We don’t have the data yet, but we hope to be able to answer the question of whether the effects are specific to human faces.” A similar study conducted by Kirsten Oinonen at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay suggested intoxicated women have a reduced ability to rate symmetry, considered a major factor in attractiveness, in a potential mate’s face. The study concluded that women who consume as little as five alcoholic drinks a month have more difficulty in rating facial symmetry than women who never drink alcohol.

The most surprising part of the study revealed the results are consistent even in a state of sobriety; that is, women who consume five or more alcoholic drinks a month not only misjudge facial symmetry when intoxicated, but when they are sober as well.

What this suggests, Munafò said, is that the effects observed in Oinonen’s study also explain why alcohol consumption is so prevalent in social situations.

“Most psychoactive drugs that humans have used throughout evolution have tended to be used in social settings, either ceremonially or to facilitate social interaction,” he said. “There are likely to be many reasons for this, but if alcohol makes other people more attractive, then it stands to reason that we would tend to use it in social situations.” Interestingly enough, even during the Prohibition years, Americans had succeeded in attracting mates. What their means were, one will never know; it may have been genuine charm or it may have been darkened corners and dim lighting. Either way, couples all over the United States didn’t seem to let their lack of eyewear stand in the way of their nightly plans. And, after all, one must not forget that even during the Prohibition, bootlegging has diligently and quietly been doing its fair share for America’s couples.

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