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No evidence that "beer goggles" are real, but "liquid courage" is definitely a thing

In the dim lighting of a crowded bar, a few drinks can transform a shy individual into the life of the party. We’ve all heard tales of the fabled “beer goggles” — the phenomenon that alcohol makes people appear more attractive.

However, new research suggests a different story. Alcohol might not enhance the physical allure of others, but instead give individuals the bravery to approach those they already find attractive. This intriguing discovery has just been detailed in the esteemed Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The common narrative surrounding alcohol’s effects paints a picture of individuals perceiving others as more attractive as their blood alcohol levels rise. But according to scientists, this widespread belief has remained largely unexplored in the realm of rigorous analysis.

Past research endeavors in this domain have primarily focused on asking participants to judge attractiveness in photos when both sober and intoxicated.

How scientists studied beer goggles

Determined to dig deeper, lead investigator Molly A. Bowdring, Ph.D., of the Stanford Prevention Research Center in Palo Alto, Calif. joined her dissertation advisor, Michael Sayette, Ph.D. They took a more interactive and tangible approach.

The researchers enlisted 18 pairs of male friends in their 20s. These participants, during their time in the lab, were shown photos and videos and were asked to rate the attractiveness of the individuals presented.

In addition, with an innovative twist, participants were also informed that they might have a chance to meet one of the people they rated in a prospective experiment. As a result, they didn’t just give scores based on looks but also had to identify whom they would want to meet.

To further the authenticity of the experiment, the same pairs of men visited the lab twice. In one instance, they consumed alcohol up to a blood alcohol concentration of about 0.08%. This is the U.S. legal driving limit.

On the other hand, they drank a non-alcoholic beverage during their second visit. This approach was designed to replicate the authentic dynamics of a social drinking setting. The participants had a friend beside them.

What the researchers learned

Contrary to popular belief, the research results unveiled no evidence supporting the existence of “beer goggles”. Dr. Sayette observed, “The well-known beer goggles effect of alcohol does sometimes appear in the literature but not as consistently as one might expect.” The alcohol intake, or the lack thereof, showed no difference in how the participants rated attractiveness.

Yet, a prominent difference did emerge in terms of social interaction. While under the influence, the men were 1.71 times more inclined to choose one of their top-four rated candidates for a potential meeting in a later experiment than when they were sober.

This suggests that alcohol might not be warping our perception of beauty but rather bolstering confidence in social interactions. In simpler terms, it’s less about “beer goggles” and more about “liquid courage”.

This revelation could have profound implications beyond just casual bar interactions. As Bowdring pointed out, “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.”

Such insights could be valuable for therapists and patients navigating the complexities of alcohol’s social effects.

While the myth of alcohol making everyone look more appealing may still persist in pop culture, science tells a different story. Alcohol acts as a catalyst for social courage rather than a lens altering beauty.

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