While booze doesn’t affect how attractive you find someone, says a new study, it does impair your decision making.There’s an urban myth that contends drinking a beer (or five) will make other people more attractive. In fact, these so-called “beer goggles” have been blamed for a vast number of questionable decisions made by men and women alike.
There is just one problem with blaming beer goggles for your exploits: According to new scientific findings, beer goggles aren’t a thing.
A real-world study conducted by British researchers reveals that the part of the brain that controls sexual urges is unaffected by alcohol—no matter how much you drink. To test the beer goggles theory, psychologist Olivia Maynard and her colleagues at the University of Bristol spend two weekends ferrying participants to Bristol local pubs.
As they imbibed in their natural environment, the 311 participants rated their perceived levels of intoxication. They also took breath alcohol tests that showed their actual levels of intoxication.
At regular intervals, the participants viewed digital images of 20 men and 20 women, all of whom were about 21 years old, and rated the images according to attractiveness. Later, when the data was analyzed, researchers realized there was no link between level of intoxication and perceived attractiveness. In certain cases, in fact, the findings were nearly the opposite. There was a negative correlation between intoxication and the perception that same-sex faces were attractive, especially among male participants. In other words, the more the male participants drank, the less attractive other dudes seemed.
The findings conflicted with an earlier laboratory-based study the researchers had conducted, as well as other studies done in laboratories. Researchers are not yet sure what caused the results to vary, but suspect it may be the natural setting where participants were free to self-administer alcohol as opposed to metered doses at regular intervals.
Even if you over-indulge on Cosmopolitans or hand-crafted pints, your brain’s ability to gauge someone’s attractiveness doesn’t waver. However, that doesn’t mean that alcohol doesn’t affect your behavior.
“Perception [of attractiveness] appears to remain the same, but other cognitive functions, such as processing speed and problem-solving are altered,” says Paul Murdock, a Utah-based clinical psychologist. “Alcohol does have an effect on the brain and its ability to inhibit emotions and impulses.”
The perceived attractiveness of others still registers deep within your lizard brain, but because alcohol limits inhibition and impulse control, that information is often ignored. So alcohol may not make some else more attractive — it’ll just make you care less how attractive you find them.
“Thus, when individuals of a similar mindset and motivation find themselves in close proximity,” Murdock says, “the likelihood of acting on these motivations, whether one will regret them or not, is more difficult to manage.”
And you’ll have no one to blame but the beer goggles/… sigh, yourself.