Prettier at Closing Time: How Beer Goggles Work


One of my all-time favorite songs, for which my girlfriend always calls me a redneck, is Mickey Gilley’s "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time." As the title suggests, it’s about the fact that a little booze makes everyone a little easier on the eyes. Does science have an explanation for “beer goggles,” or is it magic—and proof that alcohol is here because some higher power is looking after us?

A study published last year in the journal Alcohol suggests that it may have something to do with symmetry (prior to that, an eyecare industry-funded study had worked out an elaborate formula that accounted for several factors present in the average pub). Almost all organisms with more than one cell exhibit some sort of symmetry, whether it's radial, biradial, spherical or bilateral (notable exceptions: sea sponges and adult flatfish, like flounder). You could cut me, or a dog, or an apple or a dinosaur in half, and one side would be pretty much a mirror image of the other. Some organisms have more lines of symmetry than others, and some individuals are more symmetrical than others.

Now, symmetry probably isn’t something you’re really thinking about when cruising for eligible members of your preferred gender in a bar, but you may be looking for it subconsciously. Humans tend to judge symmetrical faces as more attractive than asymmetrical ones and may have a strong evolutionary preference for it, since symmetry might be a signal of good health and good genes.

In the Alcohol study, researchers from London's Roehampton University went to a few bars near campus and found both inebriated and sober students. They showed all of them 20 images of a pair of faces and 20 images of a single face, and asked which faces in the pairs were the more attractive of the two, and whether or not the solo faces were symmetrical.

The sober kids overwhelmingly said the more symmetrical faces in the pairs were more attractive. They were better able to determine which of the solo faces were more symmetrical, too. The drunk students, on the other hand, had less of a preference for symmetry and a deadened ability for detecting it (and women more so than men).

The researchers concluded that a “reduced ability to perceive asymmetry” could underlie “increased frequency of mate choice.” In layman’s terms, what the study suggests is that alcohol doesn’t necessarily make everyone more beautiful. It’s just that beer goggles degrade our ability to recognize asymmetry when we see it.

L.G. Halsey, J.W. Huber, R.D.J. Bufton, A.C. Little. “An explanation for enhanced perceptions of attractiveness after alcohol consumption.” Alcohol. Volume 44, Issue 4, June 2010.

What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]


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