Scientists win prize for 'drunk sex appeal' study

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Dan MacGuill - [email protected]
Scientists win prize for 'drunk sex appeal' study
Being drunk, or even thinking you are drunk, increases how sexy you are - to yourself. So says a French study which won the psychology Ig Nobel prize on September 12th. Photo: Steph Carter/Flickr

A team of scientists based in the French city of Grenoble were honoured with a unique award at Harvard university this week for their psychological study, which found that people are convinced they are more sexually attractive when drunk.


The team of psychologists was led by France's Dr. Laurent Bègue, who accepted the Ig Nobel prize for psychology on Thursday night.

“In psychology, no French person has ever won an Ig Nobel, so we had a good laugh when we heard the news,” Begue said at the ceremony.

The Ig Nobels are a US-based parody of the Nobel Awards, presented annually to the year’s strangest and funniest scientific research by organizers from the ‘Annals of Improbable Research’, a humorous scientific journal. 

Living up to the awards’ motto of “achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think,” Bègue and his team won for their study “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder: People who think they are drunk also think they are attractive.”

For the paper, which was published in the British Journal of Psychology in May 2012, the team of 30 research engineers and 20 doctoral students, split between Grenoble and Chambery near the French Alps, began by gathering 19 subjects in a bar in Grenoble.

The researchers asked them to rate, on a scale of 1 to 7, their sexual attractiveness, originality and sense of humour.

Then, they performed a breathaliser test on each subject. After crunching the numbers, Bègue and his team found a clear correlation – the drunker you are, the sexier you think you are.

The team went further, however, recruiting 94 young men with a classified ad in local paper Le Dauphiné Libéré.

The second round of testing involved a placebo group – that is, a group of men plied with alcohol-free beverages made to taste and smell alcoholic.

The conclusion? Once again, a group of men given a series of genuinely alcoholic drinks, end up regarding themselves as veritable George Clooneys, in comparison to a group given lemonade, whose self-esteem didn’t change.

However, the group given what they thought was alcohol, also ended up rating themselves as irresistible, after watching a video of themselves making a speech.

In other words, it’s not the chemical effects of alcohol that increases our sexual self-confidence, but the self-perception of being drunk.

Did acting drunk make the men more attractive to objective (and sober) observers? Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer was no.

Anyone who's ever been drunkenly baffled by their inexplicable lack of success with the objects of their desire, should read carefully what the French study concluded:

“Ratings from independent judges showed that this boost in self-evaluation was unrelated to actual performance.”

This isn't the first French-led scientific study to provoke laughter and thought in recent times.

In April, Dr. Jean-Denis Rouillon, a sports scientist in Besançon, eastern France, caused consternation and celebration around the world when his 15-year study reached the preliminary conclusion that wearing bras did not prevent back pain in women, and could in fact do more harm than good.

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