Perhaps the best reaction to a new study which says beer goggles are a “myth” is from MSN, which said:
Contrary to literally everything we’ve ever heard (or experienced), “beer goggles” (that phenomenon where booze seems to make everyone more beautiful) are not “a thing.”
Science says what we know is true because what we have all experienced it is not true therefore we must not have really experienced it.
When I say “we”, dear reader, I know am assuming much. But not too much for the phenomenon under discussion, for it is amenable to personal experimentation. Simply head to the nearest pub with notebook in hand. Record your attractiveness ratings of the populants, then begin imbibing. After you reach your limit, compare the ratings entered at the beginning of the evening with those made while plastered.
After your hangover has cleared, come back and read this piece from the Telegraph.
The area of the brain that makes us want to mate keeps functioning, no matter how much we drink, meaning that people can still assess how visually-appealing others are, says Dr Amanda Ellison.
“We still see others basically as they are,” she said. “There is no imagined physical transformation – just more desire.”
Ellison does admit reasoning powers diminish while drunk. And many scientists speculate that diminished reasoning power is correlated with what we can call (this is a family blog) regrettable decisions. Ellison’s claim is that while people make more regrettable decisions when drunk, they know that those with whom they commit these regrets are just as ugly as they appeared when sober.
I doubt this, but I cannot criticize Ellison’s experiment directly, because it seems to exist only in a press release which accompanies her new book Getting Your Head Around the Brain. If there is a paper which readers can discover, please let me know. There isn’t one on her web page (which does include a helpful guide for the media, listing areas of expertise).
My reason for doubt has to do with behavior I witnessed while stationed overseas in the service of this Great Nation. Many men would take leave to “the P.I.”, i.e. the Philippine Islands. Once there, these men engaged in experiments of the type outlined above. Instead of notebooks, photographic evidence was produced.
It was clear to all, and thus to science, that men who went directly from MAC flights to securing dates found more attractive partners than did those men who thought stopping at the public house first a fine idea. One gentleman, who occasionally reads this blog, and who was among the latter group, produced a photograph which excited universal comment. His explanation was that, after consuming a vast quantity of San Miguel, he thought “She had nice hair.”
Just so there is no ambiguity, let me be clear that Yours Truly did not engage in nor condone this kind of science.
Anyway, all anecdotal evidence suggests Ellison is wrong. Perhaps her data arose in a sterile setting, watching, for example, WEIRD people hooked up to an fMRI machine as they drank and noticing that some areas of the brain still lit up no matter the amount of alcohol consumed. This would accord with the other work she touts on her website. Perhaps she even had these WEIRD folks rate attractiveness before and after.
However, this data would be of only limited use because it cannot tell us how desire masks or creates attractiveness in real life, or in how looks are decided upon by area of the brain which are not making good decisions when pickled. Areas of the brain lighting up a screen correlates weakly with actual behavior.
Plus, there are many of other experiments which instead confirm the beer-goggle effect. Most of these were done in more real-life settings, and were not concerned with the areas of the brain per se. Are these to be exclude? Surely not.
No, the only interesting thing to us is how willingly and uncritically news reports are of science-sounding press releases, and how ready some writers are to disbelieve their own experience (here is another news report of the study; more are easily found; all repeat the same lines).
Thanks yet again to Al Perrella for the pointer to this.