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IgNobels 2013! Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Today we present the 2013 IgNobel Prize in Psychology!

I’m sure we’ve all been there. You go out, and you think at first you look ok. Maybe even good! Then you’re a few drinks in, and suddenly? You are FABULOUS. Gorgeous, darling. You smile, flirt, take loads of pictures. Maybe you even think you’re a good dancer.

And the next day, you look up the photos on Facebook, and what were you THINKING? Your teeth!! And your HAIR! You should never pose like that again, and duck lips are out of the question. And there was tomato sauce all over your…you didn’t even EAT tomatoes!

…how the heck did you think you were such a hot thing last night?

Welcome to self beer-goggles.

Bègue et al. “‘Beauty is in the Eye of the Beer Holder’: People Who Think They are Drunk also Think They are Attractive” British Journal of Psychology, 2012.


(Someone’s a few drinks in. Source)

We all know about beer goggles, of course. After a few drinks, other people begin to look more attractive. This can be helpful for encouraging your friends “you look GREAT! Go get ‘em!”, but it can also lead to awkward moments.

We also know that alcohol reduces self awareness. Which means that it might make you worse at judging yourself. So…does it?

The authors performed two studies. The first, at only 19 people, was pretty low powered, but it WAS in a natural setting: a bar. The experiment was really a survey. They just asked people how attractive, bright, funny, and original they felt they were. And then they gave them a breathalyzer.

And they got a correlation: the higher the blood alcohol, the more attractive people thought they were. But of course, this is just a correlation, it doesn’t prove that it’s the alcohol that makes you feel this way. It could be, for example, that people with an exaggerated sense of their own awesomeness drink more! And of course, it also doesn’t rule out the possibility that…maybe the heavy drinkers were actually more attractive.

So now you need a controlled experiment. For this, the researchers brought in 94 participants (not students, which is nice, but only men, which is kind of lame), and gave them a drink. They were told that the drink contained alcohol, or didn’t. And the drink DID contain alcohol…or it didn’t. So there’s a few conditions:

- No alcohol, not expecting any
- No alcohol, expecting alcohol
- Alcohol, not expecting any
- Alcohol, expecting alcohol

There are a couple of ways you can do this, people of course can TASTE alcohol in most cases. But you can fool them by spritzing just a little on top of the drink, to give the smell and some of the taste. Most people are pretty fooled by that. The cocktail was also designed to mask the taste: grapefruit and grenadine cordial, mint, and lemon concentrate. Sounds…kind of tasty to me.

Once the participants had a drink (or not), the authors had them record a TV segment for the drink they’d just had, a “commercial”. Then they had the participants rate how attractive they thought they were.

Afterward, to verify how attractive the people REALLY were, a panel of independent judges, blind to who had received what, rates the people based on their commercials.

And the results? People who THOUGHT they had consumed alcohol, even if they hadn’t (!) rated themselves as more attractive than those who hadn’t consumed alcohol. The alcohol effect itself? Wasn’t significant! It’s not the drink, it’s whether you THOUGHT you’d had one. And were they more attractive? …nope. Ouch.

It’s definitely funny to think that people think they are more attractive when they are drinking…but it also makes you think. Maybe we just need to convince ourselves we’ve had a drink if we need a little boost of confidence. You don’t need the actual DRINK, as this study shows. Instead, you just need to think you’ve had one. I wonder if some bartender somewhere is busily concocting an alcohol-free “confidence booster”.

And the next time you’ve been drinking and you think you’re looking great, stop and remember (if you can), that it might be all in your head. Unless, of course, you need the confidence. In which case, you look SMASHING. FANTASTIC. Go get ‘em!

Scicurious About the Author: Scicurious is a PhD in Physiology, and is currently a postdoc in biomedical research. She loves the brain. And so should you. Follow on Twitter @Scicurious.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. AvangionQ 2:27 pm 09/21/2013

    This is all wrong. Alcohol doesn’t make drinkers think others are more attractive, it just lowers the bar of who can pass.

    Link to this

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