Can the availability of potential sexual partners influence sexual attraction?
Why people might find you hotter at closing time in pubs or bars?
Dr James Pennebaker of the University of Virginia psychology department was inspired by songwriter Baker Knight 1970s hit ‘Don’t All the Girls Get Prettier at Closing Time‘ and decided to test this theory.
Pennebaker’s research assistants were instructed to approach men and women in singles bars between 9:30pm and closing time, who were alone but slightly intoxicated. The assistants then asked these people to rate members of the opposite sex.
“Ain’t it funny, ain’t it strange, the way a man’s opinions change, when he starts to face that lonely night.”
In his book Impulse: why we do what we do without knowing why we do it, Dr David Lewis sums up the findings of the study as follows:
“The results provided strong support for Baker Knight’s lyrics.
As a closing time crept closer and closer, people without partners started to see remaining members of the opposite sex as increasingly attractive.
A man or woman rated four when the bar was full might be rated six as numbers dwindled and those who remained looked like facing a ‘lonely night’.”
You getting more attractive around closing time is known as the closing time effect.
But why does the attractiveness ratings of the opposite sex persons increase as the evening goes on?
There a few psychological reasons at play…
Sexually provocative cues
One of the reasons is that bars in general contain more sexually provocative cues than other places.
As a result, these cues focus your attention more on people of the opposite sex and prime you for attraction-related thoughts and behaviours.
This is why bars are actually favourable conditions are for increased attractiveness of others, even same-sex individuals.
Just by being in a bar, other people will appear more attractive than usual.
The threat against our behavioural freedom
Although alcohol plays a big role in accentuating these cues, there’s another psychological phenomenon at play that’s occurring in parallel.
This phenomenon has to do with behavioural freedom.
Think of it this way.
When you enter a bar, you can theoretically take any member of the opposite sex home (except for the ones that are taken).
Just take your pick, right?
Pennebaker suggests however, that by closing time as others start to leave, people start to realise that their ability to take someone home is getting slimmer by the minute.
Their behavioural freedom is threatened and so they react.
They suddenly take action and instead of looking for the “the one”, they just look for “any one”.
Scientists refer to the reaction to a loss of behavioural freedom as reactance theory.
Scarcity enhances value
At closing time, there’s naturally less and less people in the bar as some leave, some pair up and are suddenly of the ‘market’, and so whoever is left of the opposite-sex becomes instantly more attractive as they’ve de facto become a scarce commodity.
This is what Brock’s (1968) Commodity Theory stipulates – that scarcity basically enhances value.
When it’s closing time, instead of choosing – people start settling for what’s left.
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