Impaired face symmetry detection under alcohol, but no “beer goggles” effect

Alistair Harvey, Ciara White, Kathleen Madelin, Ed Morrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The “beer goggles” phenomenon describes sexual attraction to individuals when alcohol intoxicated whom we would not desire when sober. One possible explanation for the effect is that alcohol impairs the detection of facial asymmetry, thus lowering the drinker’s threshold for physical attraction.

Aims: We therefore tested the hypotheses that higher breath alcohol drinkers would award more generous ratings of attractiveness to asymmetrical faces, and be poorer at discriminating bilateral facial asymmetry than less intoxicated counterparts.

Methods: Ninety-nine male and female bar patrons rated 18 individual faces for attractiveness and symmetry. Each type of rating was given twice, once per face with an enhanced asymmetry and once again for each face in its natural form. Participants then judged which of two same-face versions (one normal, the other perfectly symmetrised) was more attractive and, in the final task, more symmetrical.

Results: Alcohol had no influence on attractiveness judgements but higher blood alcohol concentrations were associated with higher symmetry ratings. Furthermore, as predicted, heavily intoxicated individuals were less able to distinguish natural from perfectly symmetrised face versions than more sober drinkers.

Conclusions: Findings therefore suggest alcohol impairs face asymmetry detection, but it seems that this perceptual distortion does not contribute to the “beer goggles” phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 4 Nov 2023


  • alcohol
  • attraction
  • “beer goggles”
  • face judgements
  • symmetry perception

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