The Science behind ‘Beer Goggles’

A new study from Durham University in the U.K. says that beauty may really be in the eye of the beer holder — but not for the reasons we think.

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As Kinky Friedman might say, beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. Now, a British researcher has attempted to find out whether that gauzy aura of attractiveness that starts surrounding potential partners after your third or fourth tequila shot actually exists.

According to Dr. Amanda Ellison, a researcher at Durham University in the U.K.,  men and women don’t actually see each other any differently after alcohol consumption, writes the Telegraph .“We still see others basically as they are,” she said. “There is no imagined physical transformation — just more desire.” Her new book, entitled Getting Your Head Around the Brain, explains that the part of our mind that encourages us to mate continues to work regardless of how much alcohol we consume — even at very high levels of intoxication. “The area of the brain that makes us want to mate keeps functioning, meaning that people can still assess how visually appealing others are,” she explains. But drinking alcohol shuts down the section of our brain that stops us acting on impulse before it deadens the ‘reptilian’ part responsible for our sexual urges.

(MORE: More Sex Partners Linked to Higher Risk of Drug Addiction, Alcoholism)

When we are sober, we are more inclined to be selective about who we approach and consider as a mate. We are “constantly weighing up questions of looks versus personality in our search for the right soul [mate],” says Ellison. Her research also finds that women tend to be pickier about whom they jump into bed with because of the risks of pregnancy. Up until the 1970s women were acutely aware of the possible repercussions of a one-night stand; now, “with better contraception and more binge drinking,” Ellison says, women are just as likely to goggle as men.

What’s even more interesting is that the greatest beneficiary of beer goggles may actually be the beholder him- or herself. In a clever study published last year in the British Journal of Psychology, people who were made to believe they were drunk and then asked to deliver a speech gave themselves better marks than those who believed they were sober —  regardless of their actual levels of inebriation. The researchers behind the study noted that “the mere belief that one has consumed alcohol increases self-perceived attractiveness.”

(MORE: ‘Catholic Guilt’ About Sex is Just a Myth, Poll Says)