Science | Bi-directional beer goggles make you beautiful

Many students will be familiar with the “beer goggles” effect – the perception that other people appear more attractive after a few bevvies. But can the effect work both ways? A paper published last year in the British Journal of Psychology showed that inebriated individuals did in fact rate themselves as better looking than their more sober counterparts. This research was conducted in the most scientific of surroundings – the college bar – and participants were asked to rate themselves on attractiveness and then breathalysed to determine their blood alcohol level.

An interesting result, but the scientists weren’t satisfied. There was a relationship between alcohol consumption and self perception but it was not possible to determine causality. A follow up experiment divided participants into two groups: one was given an alcoholic drink (equivalent to five shots of vodka) and the other a non alcoholic mocktail. Each group was then subdivided – the researchers told half of each group the drink had alcohol in and the other half that it did not.

The participants were asked record an advert for the drink they had just consumed, under the cover story of market research. After recording the ad, the subjects were asked to rate their attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 7. The attractiveness of the participants was also judged independently by sober volunteers. Remarkably, the people who had thought they had been drinking, whether or not they actually had, rated themselves as more attractive than those who thought they’d been supping on juice. Was this group naturally better looking? Well, the judges didn’t seem to think so. So it is not the act of drinking alcohol but merely the expectation of feeling more positive and confident that alcohol is supposed to bring that produces these feelings.

This research was deemed worthy enough of the Ig Nobel Prize for Psychology. The Ig Nobel prizes are a light hearted mockery of the real Nobels and, although a humorous spoof, previous Ig Nobel award winning research has led to advances in serious science.  The seemingly innocuous discovery that mosquitos were attracted to the smell of a particular cheese (Ig Nobel for Biology, 2006) has led to new methods to combat malaria in Africa. Apart from the odd exception the Ig Nobels are given to genuine research that advances scientific knowledge, although in a quirky, unexpected way. So next time you’re feeling like hot stuff on a night out, remember that beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder.


Chris Smith

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