A recent study, entitled “Beer Goggles or Liquid Courage? Alcohol, Attractiveness Perceptions, and Partner Selection Among Men”, aimed to investigate the relationship between alcohol consumption and perception of physical attractiveness (PPA) in a more realistic context. The researchers asked 36 participants to rate the attractiveness of people they were led to believe might be paired with them in a subsequent study.
“Despite conventional wisdom that alcohol increases PPA and that these enhanced attractiveness perceptions may underlie both drinking motivation and hazardous drinking consequences, this topic has received limited empirical scrutiny”, the study’s lead author, Molly A. Bowdring, Ph.D., explained.
The study’s methodology involved 18 pairs of male friends who attended two laboratory sessions, in one they consumed alcohol and on the other one they drank a non-alcoholic beverage. Following beverage onset, participants rated the level of attractiveness of “targets” present in pictures and videos. They also selected four individuals from the PPA rating set to potentially interact with in a future study.
Introducing a dimension that previous research on the topic were missing, participants were told they might have the opportunity to engage in a subsequent experiment with individuals whose attractiveness they were rating. In this context, the researchers suggest that the effect of alcohol on PPA may be more nuanced than previously thought. “Although alcohol did not affect traditional Perception of physical attractiveness (PPA) ratings, alcohol did increase the likelihood of choosing to interact with more attractive others”, the study’s authors wrote. Participants who had consumed alcohol were 1.71 times more likely to choose one of their top four attractive candidates for potential future interactions compared to when they were sober.
By adding an element of realism, with participants believing they could potentially interact and get involved with the individuals they were rating, the study’s findings challenge the notion of “beer goggles”. This is a term created in the 80’s by male North American university students, which suggests that alcohol consumption can make people perceive others as more attractive than they actually are.
While the study’s findings indicate that intoxication may not result in “beer goggles” as conventionally understood, it suggests that alcohol can indeed boost “liquid courage,” making individuals more inclined to interact with those they find attractive. This new perspective suggests that social interactions while under the influence of alcohol could be more rewarding, raising the probability for individuals to engage on risky sexual behavior “as risky sexual practices are more likely when potential partners are perceived as attractive”, the study revieled.
The study is however limited and conducted on a small group, so further reserarch is needed to further understand the effects of alcohol on people’s perception of attractiveness and social interaction behaviours. “Future alcohol-PPA studies should include more realistic contexts and provide assessment of actual approach behaviors toward attractive targets, to further clarify the role of PPA in alcohol’s hazardous and socially rewarding effects”, the researchers note.