Barely legal -- new study into whether alcohol affects perceptions of age

April 20, 2009

A new study led by the University of Leicester has demonstrated that consuming alcohol did not affect how men judged the age of women. This has important legal implications if alcohol is cited as a cause of impairing judgement in cases of unlawful sex with a minor.

The research in the University of Leicester School of Psychology by Professor Vince Egan and Giray Cordan of the University of Exeter finds that young females are typically viewed as being older than they actually are, but having consumed even large amounts of does not lead a man to think they look even older. Their study concludes: "Our study suggests that even heavy does not interfere with age-perception tasks in men, so does not excuse apparent mistaken sex in cases of unlawful sex with a minor."

The research is due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology in June 2009.

The researchers surveyed 240 people in bars and cafes and asked them to rate attractiveness of underage and mature females with and without makeup. Ten female faces were produced graphically using custom developed software to decrease and increase age, representing sexually immature and mature faces.

The study found:

  • Attractiveness ratings of minors (immature faces) were not affected by alcohol or make-up compared to more mature faces.
  • Both men and women found minors (immature faces) more attractive than sexually mature faces
  • Alcohol had a 'significant' impact on making older faces with lots of make-up appear more attractive
  • Alcohol had no effect on how old men thought women were
  • Make-up influenced attractiveness levels when viewers had consumed alcohol -especially if the faces were sexually mature
Professor Egan said: "One 'reasonable ground' for unlawful sex with a minor is mistaken age. Alcohol consumption and adult make-up are often deemed further influences on impaired perception.

"Lay psychology would hypothesize that the greater the amount of alcohol consumed by the observer, the younger the age-estimate and higher the rated attractiveness of the observed face

"We found that while alcohol consumption significantly inflated attractiveness ratings for participants looking at sexually mature faces with high levels of make-up, greater alcohol consumption itself did not lead to overestimation of age.

"Consumed alcohol had no effect on men estimating the age of either mature or immature faces."

The researchers added that, on average, the participants overestimated the ages of the faces they saw -in line with previous research which reveals an overestimation of age by 2.5 years.

"This provides further ecological validity when it is noted that many major supermarkets stipulate that a person must look at least 21 years of age before the sale of alcohol is permitted on the premises.

"Despite the fact that exact age accuracy levels are difficult to determine, the study shows that make-up and alcohol have minimal effects upon male perceptions of age, and that both genders (regardless of age and alcohol consumed) are significantly likely to over-inflate age estimations."

The authors conclude that the study highlights the 'extremely strong influence' of immature faces on attractiveness judgements

Placed into its forensic context, this study tentatively concludes that alcohol consumption and make-up use do not interfere with age-perception tasks, nor inflate subsequent age estimates.

It also concludes that given the number of other indications as to a person's age (for example build and voice), there are many cues to indicate that a person is older than they appear, so males who are meeting females socially are potentially quite able to infer if someone is under , though they may chose to not do so.

The research was conducted in pubs, but has not explored whether these findings can be repeated in conditions that more closely replicate nightclubs or discos with the more restricted and erratic lighting conditions of those places. This is planned for a further study.

Source: University of Leicester (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

How the shape and size of your face relates to your sexuality

September 19, 2017
Men and women with shorter, wider faces tend to be more sexually motivated and to have a stronger sex drive than those with faces of other dimensions. These are the findings from a study led by Steven Arnocky of Nipissing ...

Behavioral therapy increases connectivity in brains of people with OCD

September 19, 2017
UCLA researchers report that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, when treated with a special form of talk therapy, demonstrate distinct changes in their brains as well as improvement in their symptoms.

Cognitive scientists find that people can more easily communicate warmer colors than cool ones

September 18, 2017
The human eye can perceive millions of different colors, but the number of categories human languages use to group those colors is much smaller. Some languages use as few as three color categories (words corresponding to ...

Why bad sleep doesn't always lead to depression

September 18, 2017
Poor sleep is both a risk factor, and a common symptom, of depression. But not everyone who tosses and turns at night becomes depressed.

Happiness is not determined by childhood biomarkers

September 18, 2017
Happiness is not determined by childhood biological markers such as height or body fat, according to a team of European researchers involving UCL.

People with schizophrenia have threefold risk of dying

September 18, 2017
People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to die, and die younger, than the general population, indicating a need for solutions to narrow this gap, according to research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jonnyboy
1 / 5 (2) Apr 20, 2009
Yeah, righhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhht

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.