Most of us are familiar with the concept of "beer goggles"—the notion that friends and strangers alike become more attractive after a drink (or two). Beer goggles are frequently a topic of sitcoms and, if you’re unlucky, occasionally discussed over an uncomfortable brunch. The television show "Mythbusters" even dedicated a segment to the phenomenon, in which hosts Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, and Kari Byron judged the attractiveness of people while sober, buzzed, and drunk.
Is beer goggles a real phenomenon? Or is it an urban legend?
In 2003, a team of British researchers released a landmark study in the scientific journal Addiction. They brought 80 heterosexual college students to either a bar or restaurant and had them look at and rate the attractiveness of pictures of men and women.
Sure enough, participants, both men and women, who had consumed alcohol were more generous with their ratings. The men who drank were more likely than the men who didn’t drink to believe that the women in the pictures were attractive, and the women who drank were more likely than the women who didn’t drink to believe that the men in the pictures were attractive. The attractiveness ratings, however, did not increase when inebriated men and women judged photographs of people of the same sex.
Consuming alcohol appeared to be enough to change the attractiveness of potential romantic partners—in other words, beer goggles is more than a myth.
Although this study was the first to prove the existence of beer goggles, it’s hardly the only one. Here are a few other examples of studies that look at alcohol’s effect on romance:
What is it about alcohol that makes us more inclined to romance?
It may have something to do with lowered social inhibitions. In one study, researchers found that people who had been drinking were more likely to help someone who had dropped an object than people who hadn’t been drinking. With lowered social inhibitions, it may be easier to feel a little more confident and “make a move.”
It’s also possible that alcohol impairs our ability to recognize symmetry, an important component of attractiveness. One study found that people who consumed alcohol were less able to recognize asymmetrical shapes. With alcohol in our system, then, we may be less inclined to notice a love interest’s crooked nose or jagged smile.
Another possibility is that drinking kicks our brain’s reward system into overdrive. Researchers found that alcohol causes the brain to release high levels of “feel good” endorphins and dopamine, chemicals that work with the reward pathway to fuel our desire for enjoyable activities, including a good meal and a good lover. Drinking might make us more likely to seek out these pleasurable activities, even if it means lowering our usual standards.
Beer goggles are also likely a psychological effect—at least in part. In American culture, sharing a glass of wine with a lover is hardly uncommon, nor is downing a glass of champagne before a New Year’s kiss. Even with the growing popularity of online dating, bars are still places where people seek out potential mates. Since we associate alcohol with romance, we may be more likely to feel romantic—and view others as romantic—after a couple drinks.
Regardless of why, beer goggles appear to be a real phenomenon. ("Mythbusters," by the way, concluded that the beer goggles myth is “plausible,” because all three hosts rated faces as more attractive when they were drunk.) When we’re drunk, we’re less discerning and more likely to make an impulsive romantic decision.
In the end, when it comes to pursuing a love interest, it might be best to make sure you’re both sober first. It wouldn’t hurt to give the beer goggles a chance to wear off.
Contributed by Courtney Lopresti, M.S.