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12-15-2023

Does facial symmetry explain the "beer goggles" effect?

The concept of “beer goggles,” a colloquial term used for decades, implies that alcohol consumption makes others appear more attractive. This phenomenon has been attributed to the supposed effect of alcohol on one’s perception of facial symmetry. However, a new study from the University of Portsmouth challenges this popular belief.

The “beer goggles” phenomenon

“Beer goggles” refer to the perceived change in attractiveness when one is under the influence of alcohol. A common assumption is that alcohol impairs our ability to detect facial asymmetry, making people appear more attractive.

Facial symmetry has long been associated with attractiveness, with the idea that more symmetry indicates a better gene pool.

Dr. Alistair Harvey, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, addresses the limited research on this subject. “Alcohol is a strong predictor of sexual behavior, often consumed before or during dates,” he explains.

Studying the “beer goggles” effect

According to Dr. Harvey, “There are a range of possible reasons why alcohol drinkers are more inclined to engage in sex, including a lack of inhibition, heightened expectations, personality traits, and the beer goggles effect.”

Following this line of thinking, the study aimed to explore the reasons behind the increased inclination for sexual encounters after alcohol consumption, including the potential impact of the “beer goggles” effect.

The research team conducted a field experiment at a local pub in Portsmouth. They recruited 99 volunteers, aged between 18 and 62, to rate the attractiveness and symmetry of 18 faces.

Dr. Harvey explained, “Due to the limited research on this topic, we ran a field experiment to help determine why people often experience unexpected – and regretted – sexual escapades after having one too many.”

Each face was rated in its natural form and an altered version with enhanced asymmetry. Participants judged which version of the same face was more attractive and more symmetrical.

Results and future research

Contrary to popular belief, while intoxicated individuals struggled to distinguish between natural and symmetrized faces, their perception of attractiveness remained unchanged.

Interestingly, both men and women found natural faces more attractive than altered ones, with women showing a stronger preference for natural faces.

Dr. Harvey suggests that attractiveness is influenced by factors beyond facial symmetry, which might explain why the “beer goggles” effect wasn’t observed. He notes, “We don’t deny the existence of a ‘beer goggles’ effect but suspect it’s more detectable with live models rather than static photographs.”

Future research is needed to explore other factors like body shape, expression, and clothing in live settings.

In summary, this study provides significant insights into the relationship between alcohol consumption and perceived attractiveness. It challenges the long-held notion of the “beer goggles” effect, suggesting that the impact of alcohol on attractiveness judgments may be more complex than previously thought.

The full study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

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