Beer goggles are a myth — but booze does give drinkers courage to approach attractive strangers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Do “beer goggles” really make someone at the bar look more attractive? A new study is debunking this popular myth — but it’s also confirming another. Instead of finding others more appealing, researchers found that alcohol boosts drinker’s confidence, making it easier for them to approach attractive strangers.

This research reveals that while alcohol increases the likelihood of approaching someone you find attractive, it does not enhance their appearance. This contradicts the common belief that intoxication makes others more desirable than when we’re sober — simply described as wearing “beer goggles.”

The study, conducted by researchers in the United States and published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, is the first systematic analysis of this phenomenon. Previous studies typically asked participants to rate the attractiveness of others in photographs while both sober and intoxicated.

However, this study introduced a more realistic element by adding the possibility of meeting the people being rated. Dr. Molly Bowdring from the Stanford Prevention Research Center, and her advisor Dr. Michael Sayette, brought together eight pairs of male friends in their 20s to rate the attractiveness of people in pictures and videos. Participants were informed that they might have the opportunity to interact with one of the rated individuals in a future experiment.

After rating the attractiveness, participants were asked to choose those with whom they would most like to interact. Each pair of men visited the lab twice, once they were given alcohol to drink, up to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, the legal driving limit in the United States, and on the other occasion, they were given a non-alcoholic drink.

Having friends participate together in the lab was designed to mimic typical social interactions that occur in real drinking situations.

Men drinking beer, having toast at bar
(© Syda Productions –

The study did not find any evidence supporting the existence of beer goggles, as the level of intoxication did not affect the participants’ perception of attractiveness.

“The well-known beer goggles effect of alcohol does sometimes appear in the literature but not as consistently as one might expect,” Sayette says in a media release.

However, the study did find that alcohol consumption influenced the participants’ desire to interact with those they found attractive. When intoxicated, the men were 1.71 times more likely to choose one of their top-four attractive candidates for a potential meeting in a future study, compared to when they were sober.

This suggests that alcohol may not alter perception, but instead boosts confidence in interactions, giving the men “liquid courage” to approach those they find most attractive, something they might be less inclined to do otherwise.

The results could have implications for therapists and patients, according to the researchers.

“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 concludes.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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