The Science Behind the Term “Beer Goggles”
The term beer goggles refers to finding people more attractive after you’ve had a few beers. Drinking beer provides a warm, friendly sensation, lowers your inhibitions, and helps you relax. These sensations have been associated with socializing more, which insinuates flirting more. However, when the alcohol lenses are removed the next day, you may regret your flirtation because your chosen partner is unattractive.
While this euphemism has been portrayed in numerous comedies, scientific evidence suggests that the effect on the brain is real. An older study, from 2003, took 80 heterosexual college students to a bar, served some of them alcohol, and had them look at pictures of the opposite sex. Both men and women who had consumed alcohol found more people attractive compared to their sober comparison group.
This was the first truly landmark study demonstrating the effect of alcohol on perception, sociability, and preferences in potential sexual partners; however, follow-up studies have reinforced the beer goggles effect. For example, Penn State in 2008 studied alcohol use in male fruit flies and found that they also experienced beer goggles. They became significantly less picky about potential female mates.
A 2012 study reported that cigarettes enhanced the beer goggles effect. Mixing alcohol with other substances, including nicotine, can increase the experience of alcohol’s effects. The University of Bristol researchers found that, among 96 participants, those who drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes experienced the most lowered inhibitions, finding more faces attractive. Participants who just drank alcohol but smoked tobacco-free cigarettes also found more faces attractive than their sober counterparts but did not experience the same increased intoxication.
However, a 2015 study from Bristol surveyed 311 pub drinkers and asked them about their personal preferences for attractive faces. The study involved “real world drinkers,” because researchers went out to bars and pubs around the British city rather than asking laboratory participants. Their study suggested that beer goggles are not real or may be more individual than their 2012 study suggested.
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Is the Beer Goggles Effect Just Psychological?
A 2013 study from a group of French researchers was one of the first surveys to contradict the beer goggles effect. Study participants were divided into four groups: those who drank alcohol and were told they drank; those who did not drink alcohol and were informed that they did not drink; those who did not drink but were informed that they consumed alcohol; and those who did consume alcohol but were told they did not. Among those who drank alcohol – whether they knew or not – participants were more likely to rate their own attractiveness and humor positively; however, those who were told they consumed alcohol but who were actually sober self-evaluated their humor and attractiveness higher than their sober counterparts. This suggests that, at least in part, the beer goggles effect may be psychological. If you know you’re drinking, you may want your inhibitions lowered, and beer is an excuse to become more flirtatious.
A 2016 Swedish study continues to confirm the beer goggles effect. The study found that, among 60 men and women, those who drank alcohol were friendlier, more talkative, and wanted to be around other people more. The desire to be more social was more pronounced in women than men. Also, those who self-evaluated while sober that they had higher inhibitions were more likely to lower those inhibitions with some alcohol in their bloodstream. Drinking enabled study participants to recognize happy facial expressions faster, increased emotional empathy, and increased libido or desire when responding to sexually explicit pictures.
Alcohol can cause a lot of different side effects, and two of those are increased sociability and decreased inhibitions. For some, this may turn into flirting with more people, and even going home with someone they may not choose when sober. People susceptible to this phenomenon may suffer from beer goggles, but the individual response to being drunk can vary widely. Not everyone may lower their standards, but it is common enough to have a euphemism.
If you find yourself suffering many side effects from alcohol, including being sick the next day, struggling with cravings, blacking out, and making poor decisions, you may struggle with addiction to alcohol. Evidence-based detox and treatment can help you overcome this problem.