Alcohol reduces our ability to assess facial symmetry in others, according to University of Roehampton researchers who say the effect is most pronounced in women. The findings, appearing in the journal Addiction, provide new insights into the infamous beer goggles effect.
Facial symmetry (where one side of the face mirrors the other) is generally thought to be one of the key traits humans use to establish attractiveness in potential mates. Ratings of attractiveness in the opposite sex are highest when symmetry is at its greatest, other studies have shown. Scientists believe symmetry may have evolved as a key component of attractiveness as it provides a handy yardstick for genetic quality.
The new study sought to establish why the attractiveness of others increases when people consume alcohol (the beer-goggles effect) and the role symmetry-perception might play.
Lewis Halsey, who led the study, recruited 101 volunteers who were randomized into alcohol, placebo or control groups. The participants then provided verbal responses to images of faces which were presented on a computer screen for 5 seconds each; the first task required a preference judgment and the second task consisted of a forced-choice response of whether a face was symmetrical or not. Levels of concentration, weight and level of alcohol-dose were measured, and demographics plus additional psychological and health information were collected using a computer based questionnaire.
“What we have shown is that people’s ability to detect symmetry is part of the explanation for the beer goggles effect,” said Halsey. “The consequences could be considerable. A lot of people say they met their partner when they were drunk. Are their marriages shorter or longer lasting? Does it change the nature of the relationship?”