Alcohol seems to boost confidence rather than alter how we perceive others, a new study suggests. Contrary to popular belief that alcohol makes people look more attractive, researchers found that drinking alcohol only makes people more inclined to approach those they already perceive as appealing.
This isn’t the first study to look at the concept of “beer goggles,” a term popularized by US university students in the 1980s. However, these studies were inconclusive and mostly involved individuals drinking alone. Now, teams from Stanford University and the University of Pittsburgh have studied the phenomenon in a social context.
The researchers, Molly Bowdring and Michael Sayette, recruited 18 pairs of male friends in their twenties. These pairs were invited to the lab to rate the attractiveness of people shown in photos and videos. The study aimed to replicate social interactions that often accompany actual drinking events.
First, participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of people they didn’t know based on photos and videos. Then, they were asked to choose four of the people they would most like to meet, which they were told could happen in a future study. This added an element of realism, independent experts told The Guardian.
Pairs of men came into the lab twice. On one occasion, they were given cranberry juice, which they knew had no alcohol, and were asked to rate the attractiveness of a group of people. On the other occasion, they were given a cocktail of juice and vodka, containing enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol concentration to about 0.08%, the point at which you’re considered legally impaired in the US.
The study found no support for the concept of “beer goggles.” Intoxication had no effect on the attractiveness ratings.
“The well-known beer goggles effect of alcohol does sometimes appear in the literature but not as consistently as one might expect,” Sayette said in a news release.
Yet, drinking did influence the men’s willingness to interact with people they found attractive. After drinking, men were 1.71 times more likely to approach one of their top picks compared to when sober.
This outcome implies that alcohol boosts confidence rather than altering perceptions. An important caveat of the study is that participants were predominantly white, as were the women they saw. Researchers now plan to replicate the study with a more diverse cohort.
The findings could have broader implications, particularly for mental health professionals and their patients. “People who drink alcohol may benefit by recognizing 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,” Bowdring said in a news release.
The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Was this helpful?