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Drink ‘Til They're Pretty: The Science Behind Your Beer Goggles

The idea that everyone is hotter when you're drunk is somewhat of a cliché: You go to a bar, you pound a few drinks and, before you know it, apparently everyone morphs into a sexier, more appealing version of him or herself you can't wait to get your hands on.

But experts — read: desperate college students, single 20-somethings in new cities and married cheaters — will tell you the phenomenon of suddenly finding someone attractive at a certain level of intoxication is, in fact, real. Very, very real.

A 2002 study from the University of St. Andrews found that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol will make you think people are 25 percent more attractive than they really are.

In the study, researchers took 80 college students and had half of them consume an alcoholic beverage and the other half remain sober.

Then, they showed the students photos of 120 men and women and asked them to rate the attractiveness of the photos on a scale from one (highly unattractive) to seven (highly attractive).

The drunk group gave each photo a 25 percent higher rating than the sober group — an indication that alcohol truly did have an affect on perceived attractiveness.

Hence, beer goggles.

Multiple studies like this one have suggested the scientific presence of so-called beer goggles. But these beer goggles aren't actual goggles that physically change the way people look inside a bar.

Instead, beer goggles are an interesting combination of all the ways alcohol affects your perception of the world around you, including your perception of how attractive people are.

One study from the University of Roehampton in London suggests that this is due to our primal definition of attractiveness: symmetry.

Previous research has proven time and time again that on an evolutionary, biological level, human beings are more attracted to symmetrical faces.

Human beings all have bilateral symmetry — one line of vertical symmetry down the middle of our faces — but some people are just more symmetrical than other people.

This study from the University of Roehampton found that because alcohol impairs our vision, it actually affects our ability to detect whether or not a face is symmetrical — or, in other words, our ability to detect whether or not someone is attractive.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned 100 participants to an alcoholic beverage (a vodka tonic), a placebo beverage that tasted like alcohol or a non-alcoholic beverage.

They then showed participants a series of 20 pairs of photos of the same person. In each pair, one photo was altered to be symmetrical and one was not.

Researchers wanted to discover which of the two faces in each pair of photos participants would find more attractive and to what extent the participants could differentiate between the symmetrical and asymmetrical faces.

All the participants were more attracted to the symmetrical faces, further proving the theory that symmetrical faces are, indeed, perceived as more attractive.

The drunk participants, however, had a harder time differentiating between the symmetrical and asymmetrical faces.

This means when you're drunk, your brain tricks you into thinking people who aren't good looking — or whose faces are less symmetrical — are actually good looking.

Of course, people always try to dispel the idea that perfectly symmetrical faces aren't as attractive as asymmetrical ones because they lack character or because they're boring.

But drinking also affects the frontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that controls our impulses and our understanding of social rules.

When we're drunk, the frontal cortex shuts down, turning us into a less socially conscious and more illogical, impulsive version of ourselves. We become boiled down to our primal wants and desires.

Therefore, if finding symmetry attractive is truly evolutionary, it makes sense that we're into symmetry when we're drunk — we're stripped of the ability to consider other kinds of unique, socially constructed beauty.

Plus, if we're stripped down to our primal desires, it makes perfect sense that we might want to hook up with whoever crosses our path, regardless of what he or she looks like.

We literally can't tell who's good looking, but we don't care because we're bursting with desire.

What's interesting about beer goggles is that, according to the University of Roehampton study, the drunker you are, the worse your beer goggles are.

So the person you hooked up with while you were blackout could very well be the ugliest your primal brain could ever let you go.

Or, if you know your friend is blackout, don't judge her choices if she picks an ugly guy at the bar. Because as the great Jamie Foxx once said, you have to just blame it on the alcohol.

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Alexia LaFata

Digital Editor

Alexia LaFata is a Senior Editor. She's a proud New Jersey native and Boston College graduate. When she's not writing, she's watching documentaries, practicing her Cher impression, or eating pasta. Stalk her at alexialafata.com.
Alexia LaFata is a Senior Editor. She's a proud New Jersey native and Boston College graduate. When she's not writing, she's watching documentaries, practicing her Cher impression, or eating pasta. Stalk her at alexialafata.com.

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