Confirmed: The Closing Time Effect

Why potential partners look more attractivethe later it gets.

By PT Staff, published May 1, 1997 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Not only are some folks looking for love in all the wrong places, they're also looking at the wrong time. Ever since country singer Mickey Gilley observed in a 1975 hit song that "the girls get prettier at closing time," at least four teams of psychologists have ventured into bars and nightclubs to see if it's true (for both sexes). Those studies produced somewhat conflicting results, but Washington University psychologist Scott Madey, Ph.D., thinks the problem is that Gilley got it just half right--only people who aren't already in a steady relationship fall prey to the illusion that members of the opposite sex look better late at night.

Surveying revelers at a Toledo, Ohio, club. Madey found that at 10 p.m. unattached individuals judged the average attractiveness of opposite sex patrons as 2.3 on a scale of one to five. But their ratings zoomed to a spectacular 3.8 as closing time drew near some three hours later. The appraisals made by folks in steady relationships, however, barely budged over the course of the night.

Don't blame booze for the rosier late-night judgments: Surprisingly, studies show that alcohol doesn't affect how we view others' attractiveness. Instead, Madey suggests that as the advancing hours eat away at our freedom to choose a companion, we unconsciously inflate our opinion of potential partners to make ourselves feel better about our options ("They all look like movie stars," sang Gilley of his late-night lady friends). Whatever the explanation, those who keep the phenomenon in mind may avoid regretting their choice of company come the light of day.