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What Is Scarce Becomes Very Attractive

The Beer Goggle Effect at play on the ABC Show "The Bachelor"

Ever heard of the beer goggle effect? Some creative researchers, referring to themselves as “vigilant in the honky tonk as well as in the laboratory,” aimed to test the Country and Western "beer goggle" hypothesis that “all the girls get prettier at closing time.” They found good support for this theory—perceived attractiveness of members of the opposite sex increased around closing time at the bars.  This result was repeated in 2010 by a group of Australian researchers, and the finding held even when researchers polled participants who had not been drinking alcohol.* 

Based on the results of these studies, the "beer goggle effect" is not actually about beer—it's about something else entirely. That something is the scarcity principle. The scarcity principle is the very same principle that salespeople use routinely to increase the purchasing interest of potential consumers (“We have one more left in the warehouse…someone else expressed interest in this house earlier today, so we'd better submit the highest offer you can afford as soon as possible…Call now—the remarkable ‘thneed'  is available only while supplies last…”).** So, in the context of a bar that is closing, when our options are scarce, what is available becomes more attractive.  

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When we consider the setting of a bar that is about to close, what we have in a sense is a temporarily shrunken world. In a shrunken world, with fewer options at hand, people begin to ask themselves, "Of the options that are present, which one is most appealing to me?" They often begin to mentally cast themselves into romantic fantasies involving whoever may be available. 

Any Christian teenager who has ever been on a short-term mission trip to a foreign land is familiar with this phenomenon—it is a variant of the "beer goggle" effect and I have often heard it referred to as having “mission goggles.” Speaking from firsthand experience, the essence of having “mission goggles” is that at the start of a summer long mission trip, even if your first thought is, “Too bad there aren't any cute boys on this trip,” when you are swept off to a foreign land where you are forced to rely on others in a number of uncomfortable situations, inevitably, by the end of the trip, one of the boys ends up looking like Hugh Jackman. The same thing happens at science camps and band camps across the country every summer – hundreds of scrawny boys and girls get magically transformed into Hugh Jackman and Charlize Theron. 

This is why the shrunken-world element is so important in The Bachelor—it effectively reduces the range of choices to one man, which increases the appetitive (and competitive) drives of the contestants.  In fact, separating the contestants from the bachelor packs a double punch. It not only prevents contestants from seeing the bachelor when he is not “on,” but also ensures that the powerful principle of scarcity will be tapped to full effect.  

Making the bachelor’s intrusions into the bachelorette pad unpredictable, and on his terms, builds the false reality that he is a very powerful man of the world who keeps others waiting on his schedule and whims. In the grips of the beer/mission goggle effect, rarely will a typical contestant say “you know, he is not really my type” or “I'm actually not that attracted to him.” 

With only one object of potential attraction present, it is comical to hear women with very different personalities say things like “He's perfect for me…it's almost as if we were meant to be together.” These types of statements are frequently confessed during the filming and are always stated in the absence of any real information about who this man is. Of course, the viewers are looking at the bachelor from an outside perspective and are much more likely to say things like “I wouldn't marry a guy like that.” 

Sure, the producers edit what is on screen, and certainly, contestants have fame-seeking motives as well as love-connection ones, but if people were feeling this type of thing, they would probably leave the show more often than they do or would signal in some other way their relative disinterest, perhaps by occasionally making themselves slightly less physically available to the bachelor's romantic overtures.  Think about it—how many times has a contestant on the show turned her face away at the approach of a bachelor’s wet mouth, even in cases when she has seen him making out with someone else not 30 seconds previously? 

If even one other suitor were on the show, it would diminish the scarcity principle. If the show were not “The Bachelor” but “The Bachelors”, surely some of the women might find themselves evaluating the situation differently and thinking about the degree of fit between their own personalities and each of the suitors (although, even then, after a few weeks, one of the available bachelors is bound to start looking like Hugh Jackman to each of the women).  

*Pennebaker, J.W., Dyer, M.A., Caulkins, S.R., Litowitz, L., Ackreman, P.L., Anderson, D.B., & McGraw, K.M. (1979). “Don’t the Girls Get Prettier at Closing Time: A Country and Western Application to Psychology.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5: 122-125, p. 125. 

Johnco, C., Wheeler, L., and Taylor, A. (2010). “They do get Prettier at Closing Time: A Repeated Measures Study of the Closing-time Effect and Alcohol. Social Influence, 5: 261-271. 

**Seuss, D. (1971). The Lorax. New York, NY: Random House, Inc. 

Shauna Springer, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, relationship and lifestyle researcher, and author of Marriage, for Equals: The Successful Joint (Ad)Ventures of Well-Educated Couples. more...

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