Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

A research project commissioned by Bausch and Lomb, and headed by Nathan Efron, Professor of Clinical Optometry at the University of Manchester, tried to reduce the “beer goggles effect” down to an equation. No college student is unfamiliar with beer-goggling: that regrettable effect that alcohol and dark rooms have on our ability to judge attractiveness. In fact, a poll (also by B&L) showed that 68% of people had regretted giving their phone number to someone to whom they later realized was not attractive. Is there really a simple equation that explains it all?

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So, what factors are at play here? The distance between the two people, amount of alcohol consumed, ambient light and smokiness and a person’s visual acuity all factor in to the below equation.

i-897174fedfb6d968a7a97ba10d8cf8cf-beer goggles formula.jpg

The Breakdown:
An = number of units of alcohol consumed
S = smokiness of the room (graded from 0-10, where 0 clear air; 10 extremely smoky)
L = luminance of ‘person of interest’ (candelas per square metre; typically 1 pitch black; 150 as seen in normal room lighting)
Vo = Snellen visual acuity (6/6 normal; 6/12 just meets driving standard)
d = distance from ‘person of interest’ (metres; 0.5 to 3 metres)

The formula can work out a final score (B), which can range from less than one (where there is no beer goggle effect) – to more than 100 (with a HUGE beer goggle effect). The higher the number, the more attractive an otherwise unattractive person will appear.

Nathan Efron, Professor of Clinical Optometry at the University of Manchester, said: “The beer goggles effect isn’t solely dependent on how much alcohol a person consumes, there are other influencing factors at play too.

“For example, someone with normal vision, who has consumed five pints of beer and views a person 1.5 metres away in a fairly smoky and poorly lit room, will score 55, which means they would suffer from a moderate beer goggle effect.”

Thing is, it doesn’t really take a genius to realize that this study was more done for colloquial PR rather to explain any real psychological or neurological change in perception. I tried to determine if some real paper was associated with the press release, but came up empty handed (although I did find a plethora of papers by this author in regards to contact lens-wearing and eye infections). Its kind of funny (and fun) when embarrassing phenomena are treated with a scientific (contact) lens, however its always kind of irksome when something termed a study never came under the scrutiny of the peer-review process and was solely funded by a corporation. The straight-to-press-release shtick usually raises eyebrows, at the very least.

There isn’t really much to lose or gain by accepting the results, except if Baush and Lomb tried to sell anti-beer-goggle contact lens or something. Which seems unlikely. Couldn’t they have conducted a study in a bar or something: ask how many drinks the person’s had, measure the light/smokiness, and then ask them to rate an average-looking person? Then at least, they’d get to conduct “research” in a bar.


  1. #1 Sam Jackson
    February 7, 2007

    Hmm… would be unethical to test out the numbers to try to peg down real-world effect with human subjects, right? Some bored science major should try to do an observational-type study on some undergrads, though…

  2. #2 G. Shelley
    February 7, 2007

    Are these sort of silly PR studies common in the US? Every few months, we seem to get a similar thing, where some company or group sponsors someone to produce a mathematical formula for something. I think we have seen humour and biscuits for tea

  3. #3 Peter Scott
    February 7, 2007

    These are common in the UK. There is usually one a month from someone. The sole purpose of all of them is advertising. If you need a product advertised then get some academic to write a formula. What I would like to see is someone write up a formula so we could estimate from the formulas complexity and the words used to describe it how much the company paid to have the formula written.

  4. #4 Shelley Batts
    February 7, 2007

    While I got this “study” off the BBC, it was conducted in the USA. I’d say these types of things crop up everywhere there is advertising (as Peter mentioned above).

  5. #5 phineasgage
    February 7, 2007

    Marketing research cracks me up. But it makes me strangely angry when researchers lend them false credibility by pretending to have done the research themselves. Petra Boynton has a rather good post on a strange marketing research rubberstamping offer she received.

    I also ranted a bit about this in relation to the big Seroxat mess that GSK are finding themselves in, where some prominent researchers had essentially sold their names.

  6. #6 phineasgage
    February 7, 2007

    Hm, those links didn’t work out. The link tags made the text change colours, but the actual links themselves are nowhere to be seen. My post wasn’t that important, but I do think the post by Boynton was interesting:

  7. #7 Charles Soto
    February 7, 2007

    Check out the work done at the SAHARA lab at The University of Texas at Austin:

    Not sure if they’ve covered this specific topic, but there’s actual consumption-related science done here. Very interesting (and nice) people.

  8. #8 Mike
    February 8, 2007

    We get a lot of these in the UK. The Guardian’s science columnist, Ben Goldacre, had a real rant about these not that long ago. He described it as an “academic whoring their name to a PR company”.

  9. #9 SciencePunk
    February 9, 2007

    I wrote to Nathan Efron about this in the course of debunking it for SciencePunk.

    There is much more to this story than meets the eye, not just Efron’s obfuscated financial interests, but also the insidious way the equation is set out. The story even has a satisfying come-uppance for Bauch & Lomb.

    See for all the gory details.

  10. #10 Shelley Batts
    February 9, 2007

    I’ll check it out, thanks!

  11. #11 L
    February 13, 2007

    And then, of course, there is the inverse beer goggle effect (1/beta) — the effect that one’s own beer drinking has on one’s own attractiveness (or more accurately, repulsiveness) to others.

    As beta increases, 1/beta goes to zero (as it should)

    As one drinks more beer, others become more attractive, but you yourself become less attractive to them– downright repulsive, in the extreme case in which one has drunk enough to get alcohol poisoning and die (except to necrophiliacs, but they are clearly an exception and must have their own formula).

    The inverse goggle formula together with the goggle formual tells you something important — though not at all unexpected:

    In order for there to be a “favorable” outcome (favorable from the standpoint of both participants — and probably only for a few hours), both have to have the googles on — since 1/beta * beta = 1. In iothjer words, solo drinking can not alone increase one’s chances of scoring (but we hardly need aformula to tell us that)

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