A University of Pittsburgh psychology professor and graduate student compiled studies on alcohol’s effect on the brain in social settings

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Laboratory goggles, meet “beer goggles.”

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh do a lot of research into chemistry, but one group of Pitt psychologists took a particular look at the chemistry between a man and woman, with a bit of alcohol mixed in.

“Alcohol is about as social a drug as there is,” said Michael Sayette, a Pitt psychology professor. “And yet, the vast majority of research that’s been conducted to understand alcohol’s effects has been done with people studied in isolation.”

But any barfly will tell you drinking is rarely done in isolation. It’s in social settings. One of the long-held beliefs of imbibers: someone of the opposite sex looks a bit more attractive after one downs a few cocktails. Country fans of the mid-2000s may remember the Neal McCoy song “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On.”

“Any bartender could tell you about beer goggles.” said Sayette.

And Sayette’s research with Pitt graduate student Molly Bowdring found a “small yet significant positive association between alcohol and perceived opposite-sex attractiveness among heterosexual people.”

Sayette and Bowdring’s reviewed available studies regarding the subject, and had their paper published in the journal Addiction.

The studies compiled by the Pitt researchers involved giving alcohol to participants, then having the participants give attractiveness scores to pictures of other people. Bowdring believes more comprehensive research could be done – specifically having people interact with one another instead of scoring static images.

“In the real world, you typically have both people drinking in a bar setting,” Bowdring said.

The research is not just about settling bar bets. Pitt psychology researchers want to develop a better understanding of the brain’s reward mechanisms, specifically when drugs are involved.

“If we want to better understand why this social drug is causing problems in the world at times — and for whom — then we believe bringing social context into our labs is very important,” Sayette added. “Now that we’ve identified that alcohol seems to affect attractiveness perceptions, it opens up a whole set of questions that researchers can pursue.”