A study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that bar patrons rate themselves as more attractive toward the end of the night and, contrary to popular belief, intoxication does not explain this effect. Instead, sex differences emerged suggesting that the effect has more to do with motivations to attract a mate.
Psychology researchers have previously documented the “closing time effect”, a phenomenon where people at bars rate other patrons as more attractive the closer it is to closing time. The theory is that as the night goes on, companion options dwindle, causing people to unconsciously perceive potential companions as more attractive to offset the increasing threat of going home alone. Some scholars have suggested that this effect is being muddled by another phenomenon called the “beer goggles effect” which posits that people perceive others as more attractive the more they grow intoxicated.
Study authors Tobias Otterbring and Kristian Rolschau wanted to see whether proximity to closing hours would similarly influence a person’s perception of their own attractiveness. The researchers opted to control for alcohol consumption, to test whether a closing time effect would persist beyond the beer goggles effect.
The study was conducted among people enjoying a night out at a Danish bar. Across several nights, a total of 475 bar patrons filled out surveys that asked them several questions including how much alcohol they had consumed and how drunk they felt. They also rated their own attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 7.
The researchers separated the responses into three categories based on whether the bar patron had filled out their survey in the afternoon, evening, or night. Statistical analyses were then performed to test whether the time of day influenced participants’ self-ratings of attractiveness.
Overall, it was found that people attending the bar at night rated themselves as more attractive than did evening patrons or afternoon patrons. It was also found that neither the amount of alcohol consumed nor perceived level of intoxication affected this relationship between time of night and self-rated attractiveness. In other words, night patrons perceived themselves as more attractive regardless of how much they had had to drink or how drunk they felt.
Moreover, neither alcohol consumption nor perceived intoxication was significantly related to self-rated attractiveness. In general, people who drank more found themselves no more attractive than those who drank less. These findings run contrary to the beer goggles effect and suggest that intoxication cannot explain why people tend to rate themselves as more attractive closer to the end of the night.
Importantly, sex differences were revealed, offering insight into an explanation for the effect. If the link between proximity to closing time and self-perceived attractiveness is driven by motivations for finding a companion, the effect should only hold among single patrons. While this was true for women, relationship status did not moderate the closing time effect among men. The researchers say this pattern of findings falls in line with sexual strategies theory, which posits that men and women embrace different sexual strategies when it comes to short-term mating.
Whereas women are more motivated to search for invested partners who will care for offspring, men are more motivated to attract many potential partners. Since men are more pulled toward short-term mating, it seems reasonable that the closing time effect should be less dependent on their relationship status compared to women. This could explain why the closing time effect appeared to be more persistent among male bar patrons while only holding among female patrons who were single.
Otterbring and Rolschau acknowledge that there are other potential explanations for the findings. For example, it could be that people who attend bars later at night are more attractive or more likely to dress in alluring ways. Alternatively, people who are night owls tend to have more narcissistic traits, and narcissists are more likely to perceive themselves positively and to dress in self-enhancing ways. The study authors suggest that follow-up studies might offer additional insight into the psychological processes behind the closing time effect.
The study, “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder but rarely because of the beer”, was authored by Tobias Otterbring and Kristian Rolschau.