The Blurry Science of Beer Goggles

Turns out, beer goggles have a bigger effect on emotions than looks.

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When you first walked into the bar, deficient in liquor, not one of the other patrons really caught your eye. But after inhaling a few large beers and a couple tequila shots, hey now, when did everyone *hick* become so dang good-looking? Hey! Hey, you! Can I have number, please?

This phenomenon of finding people more attractive after indulging in a few adult beverages has appropriately come to be known as beer goggles. And while it can be somewhat attributed to the lowered inhibitions that come with partaking in large amounts of alcohol — which simply make you more likely to chase after your sexual impulses — there are a few other things happening here, too. 

First, have a look at this 2016 study, which found that drinking makes people more likely to recognize happy faces, exhibit emotional empathy and find sexually-explicit pictures more pleasant (with that last effect being slightly more applicable to women than to men). Another earlier study found that unhappy couples are also more likely to get along and resolve conflicts after having a few alcoholic drinks (although, after a few too many, as you can imagine, things can go south in a bad way). In other words, alcohol can simply help you connect with people with whom you might not otherwise — and when connections happen, sometimes sex does, too.

Now, you probably noticed that these results have nothing to do with beer goggles making us find people more attractive, which seems to be where the science becomes a little unpredictable. On one hand, as English researcher Amanda Ellison details in her book, Getting Your Head Around the Brain, and explained to the Telegraph back in 2013, “We still see others basically as they are. There is no imagined physical transformation — just more desire.” On the other hand, a fairly comprehensive 2015 study and an old Mythbusters episode suggest that people are affected by alcohol differently, and some might actually see people as better-looking after taking down a few good ones.

To that end, as this 2008 study found, drunk people are less capable of distinguishing symmetrical faces from asymmetrical ones, and since symmetry is known to be a huge factor when it comes to attractiveness, this could explain why some tipsy people find those around them to look extra nice.

Moreover, another experiment found that the drunker a bar patron is, the more attractive they consider themselves. There’s also the finding that sober people find slightly buzzed (i.e., one-drink-buzzed) people more appealing, which the researchers attribute to some combination of “subtle smiles and relaxation of tonic muscle tone” and “the flushing effect of alcohol.” Combined, you can see how, whether beer goggles make others look more attractive or not, hookups are more likely to happen when alcohol is involved, simply because everyone thinks better of themselves and those around them. (Hell, even fruit flies like to get wrecked before getting freaky.)

Alcohol, then, can have all sorts of effects, the most prominent of which include increased sociability and decreased inhibitions. So, whether beer goggles actually fine tune the ways in which you perceive how others look, you may end up flirting with more people, and even going home with someone you might not choose while sober. 

Put simply, drink at your own risk.