When it comes to approaching someone you like at a bar, it may be more a case of alcohol giving you liquid courage than beer goggles, researchers say.
A new study suggests drinking alcohol makes people more likely to approach someone they already find attractive, but does not make others appear more attractive.
Some people argue that intoxication makes others seem better-looking – but according to the researchers, this has not been systematically studied.
Past research typically asked people to simply rate others’ attractiveness, based on photos, while sober and while intoxicated.
The well-known beer goggles effect of alcohol does sometimes appear in the literature, but not as consistently as one might expect
Professor Michael Sayette, University of Pittsburgh
But the new study added the possibility of meeting the people being rated.
The study, led by Molly Bowdring of the Stanford Prevention Research Centre, Stanford University, in the USA (affiliated with University of Pittsburgh at the time of this study), and her dissertation adviser, Michael Sayette, involved 18 pairs of male friends in their 20s.
The men were brought to the laboratory to rate the attractiveness of people they saw in photos and videos.
They were also told that they may be given the chance to interact with one of those people in a future experiment.
After the ratings were given, the men were asked to pick those who they would most like to interact with.
Pairs of men visited the lab on two occasions – on one occasion they both received alcohol to drink – up to about a blood alcohol concentration of .08%, the legal limit for driving in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the United States, and on the other occasion, they both received a non-alcoholic drink.
Friend pairs entered the lab together in order to mimic social interactions that would typically take place in a real drinking situation.
The researchers say they did not find evidence of beer goggles – whether or not the men were intoxicated had no effect on how good-looking they found others.
Professor Sayette, from the University of Pittsburgh, said: “The well-known beer goggles effect of alcohol does sometimes appear in the literature, but not as consistently as one might expect.”
However, according to the findings, drinking alcohol may affect how people react to those they find attractive in a different way.
The researchers found it impacted how likely the men were to want to interact with people they found attractive.
When drinking, they were 1.71 times more likely to select one of their top-four attractive candidates to potentially meet in a future study compared with when they were sober.
The researchers suggest alcohol may not be altering perception but rather enhancing confidence in interactions, giving the men liquid courage to want to meet those they found the most attractive.
According to the researchers, the findings could have implications for therapists and patients.
Prof Bowdring said: “People who drink alcohol may benefit by recognising that valued social motivations and intentions change when drinking in ways that may be appealing in the short term, but possibly harmful in the long term.”
The findings are published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.