The beer-goggle effect is well-documented – the way that being drunk makes everyone look wonderfully attractive. A new study asks whether the goggles work backwards. Does being drunk affect how we judge our own appeal?
Laurent Bègue and her team asked 19 patrons at a French bar to rate their own attractiveness and to puff into a breathalyser. The two measures correlated – the participants who were more drunk tended to rate themselves as more attractive. But maybe that was nothing to do with the effect of alcohol. Perhaps better-looking people like getting more drunk?
To find out, Bègue and her colleagues conducted a balanced placebo test with 86 Frenchmen. Half drank the equivalent of five to six shots of vodka, and in this group, half were told truthfully the minty lemon drink was alcoholic, whilst the other half were told it was a new, non-alcoholic beverage that tasted like alcohol. The remaining men drank an alcohol-free version of the minty, lemon drink – half of them were told it was alcoholic (alcohol was sprayed on the glass to make this more believable) and half were told truthfully that it was not. After a short break to allow the alcohol to work its effects, they all recorded an advertising message for the fictional beverage company that they’d been told had produced the drink. Right after, they then watched back the film they’d made and rated their own attractiveness.
The take-home finding – participants who thought they were drunk rated themselves as more attractive than did other participants, regardless of whether they’d really had any alcohol or not. In other words, it’s not the chemical content of alcohol that makes us think we’re more attractive, it’s merely the belief that we’re drunk that inflates our self-perceived appeal (up to a point – in fact the average self-judged attractiveness rating for the group who though they’d had alcohol still wasn’t that high).
Maybe people who thought they were drunk really were more attractive than those who thought they were sober? A panel of 22 university students also watched the videos and rated the attractiveness of the men. There was no evidence in their ratings to suggest the participants who thought they were drunk were more attractive, so the inflated self-perceived appeal of these men was illusory.
Why should thinking we’re drunk have this effect? The researchers believe it must have to do with implicit beliefs people hold about alcohol. If people associate alcohol and attractiveness in their minds, then thinking they’ve had alcohol could make thoughts about their own attractiveness more accessible. This would fit with past research showing that drinkers in films are usually portrayed as more attractive than non-drinkers.
Coincidentally, another study has just been published that asked a group of 100 young men to answer questions about how they think a typical young man’s personality is affected by being drunk. They then said how they thought being drunk affected their own personality. There was a lot of agreement about the effect of being drunk on a typical young man – reduced conscientiousness, increased neuroticism, elevated extraversion, reduced openness and reduced agreeableness. When the young men then said how alcohol changed their own personalities, they again highlighted reduced conscientiousness, increased neuroticism and extraversion, but they thought their own agreeableness was unchanged and that they were actually more open to experience when intoxicated.
So, not only do people who think they’re drunk find themselves more attractive, people (well, young men) also think that, whereas you are less agreeable when you’re drunk, their own personality when drunk remains as likeable and friendly as ever!
Laurent Bègue, Brad J. Bushman, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, and Medhi Ourabah (2012). ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder’: People who think they are drunk also think they are attractive. British Journal of Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2012.02114.x