Why is beauty, as the saying goes, is in eye of the beer holder?
The term beer goggles sums up the idea that potential partners start to look more attractive after a few alcoholic drinks. It is widely reported and there is scientific evidence that it is a real phenomenon.
The effects of alcohol on the brain are mostly depressant, though it has some stimulant properties. So how can a depressant make people look more attractive? I have a theory that offers an answer. It also predicts late night eating, fighting and vomiting.
The idea that we have preconscious circuits in our brains, looking after things like finding food or a mate, has an explanation for beer goggles. Alcohol can suppress the circuits that look after other things than mating. Now all the mating circuit has to do is let us think the nearest potential mate is attractive.
Some scientists think that our vision works by activating modified stored icons. In other words to see a face in front of us our brain finds a standard face in memory and rotates and modifies it to match the signals from they eye.
The mating circuit in our beer sodden brain only has to modify our stored icon for a mate a bit less than necessary for accuracy to have us seeing a more attractive person in front of us. Normally the circuits that pre-consciously judge what would happen if we were to meet our friends, or our mothers, with this potential mate in tow would make sure the image in our minds eye was a bit more accurate.
So we get beer googles because parts of our brain are doing less work than they should.Incidentally less than accurate modification of stored icons, under the influence of alcohol, might also explain why we hear a voice like Michael Jackson’s when listening to bad karaoke.
If the theory that the beer goggles effect is caused by letting one task specific circuit get more control than it normally should, then there would be examples of the effect of letting other circuits take charge.
I believe we have preconscious circuits for; food, poison, mating, competition, danger, affiliation, homeostasis and circadian rhythms such as sleep.
That circuit that manages our circadian rhythms can have us falling asleep before we get home. The food circuit can prompt the late night curry. The affiliation circuit can have us declaring love for one and all. Competition or danger circuits might be what account for aggressive behavior.
If suppression of task specific circuits is responsible for some of the effects of alcohol then it is likely that our poison circuit will also be influenced. When our poison circuit is suppressed we may continue to drink alcohol past the point where our bodies should be rejecting it. If all but our poison circuit is suppressed we may react by vomiting well before we would for the same amount of a different toxin.
So not just beer goggles, but bad karaoke, late night binge eating, telling everyone we love them before fighting, being sick and then falling asleep. This is what our unmediated preconscious circuits are like.
Thankfully we usually have a sober conscious self to respond to the world in more nuanced ways.
Jones, B. T., Jones, B. C., Thomas, A. P. and Piper, J. (2003), Alcohol consumption increases attractiveness ratings of opposite-sex faces: a possible third route to risky sex. Addiction, 98: 1069–1075.
Egan, V. and Cordan, G. (2009), Barely legal: Is attraction and estimated age of young female faces disrupted by alcohol use, make up, and the sex of the observer? British Journal of Psychology, 100: 415–427.
McLeod, S. A. (2007). Visual Perception Theory. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/perception-theories.html