Closing time effect
"Closing time effect" refers to the phenomenon that individuals begin to perceive the opposite gender as being more attractive as it gets later into the night. This observation was first coined by Mickey Gilley in his song, "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time" in 1975. Subsequently, it caught the attention of social psychologists who used scientific testing to gather evidence in support of the idea.
Pennebaker et al. (1979) conducted the first experiment testing this observation. Using 52 men and 51 women as subjects at three different bars close to a college campus, experimenters asked individuals the following question: "On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 indicates 'not attractive,' 5 indicates 'average' and 10 indicates 'extremely attractive.'" The experimenters took this survey at 9:00 pm, 10:30 pm and at midnight. Results showed that individuals' perception of people's attractiveness in the bar increased the later it got.
The freedom of potentially selecting someone in the bar is threatened as the night comes closer to ending, according to the reactance theory (Brehm, 1960). Pennebaker et al. (1979) also suggested dissonance theory as an explanation, proposing that as the night progresses, individuals intention to leave with someone becomes stronger. However, leaving the bar with someone who they may find unattractive causes dissonance, increasing the perceived attractiveness of the potential mate.
Following the first study performed by Pennebaker et al. in 1979, Nida and Koon (1983) found evidence of the closing time effect in a country and western bar but did not find it in a campus bar. Gladue and Delaney (1990) found that individuals of the opposite gender became more attractive as a factor of time, but that photos of the opposite gender did not. They found that male participants rated the most attractive photos higher but ratings of the least attractive photos also decreased. Females showed no changes over time in their photo ratings of males. Madey, Simo, Dillworth, and Kemper (1996) found the effect in a nightclub near a university, but only for participants not in a relationship. The authors argued that only participants not in a relationship should experience a threat to their choice of companion. Sprecher et al. (1984) failed to find a closing-time effect.
The effect of alcohol
Johnco, Wheeler and Taylor (2010) measured the attractiveness of participants over a night while also controlling for the effect of alcohol consumption by measuring their blood alcohol content (BAC) with a breathalyzer each time that they measured individuals' perceptions of physical attractiveness. They used BAC as a time varying covariate in a repeated measures design, with 87 participants at a beachside pub in Sydney, Australia on four consecutive Saturday nights, between 9 pm and 12 am. They found that both perceptions of attractiveness as well as BAC increased as a factor of time. They concluded that BAC explained a significant portion of the increase in opposite-sex attractiveness but that a substantial effect remains after adjusting for BAC.
Other possible explanations
One other possible explanation about the cause of this perception of higher attractiveness is "mere familiarity or exposure" (Zajonc, 1968). This means that previously seen stimuli may be perceived more positively than new stimuli. In addition, another explanation comes from the commodity theory (Brock, 1968). According to commodity theory, as people find mates in the bar and leave with them, there is a scarcity of individuals left in the bar. This scarcity increases the desirability and perceived attractiveness of those left in the bar.
- Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic.
- Gilley, M. (1975). Don’t all the girls get prettier at closing time. In The Best of Mickey Gilley (Vol. 2). Columbia Records. Written by Baker Knight, Singleton Music Company. New York: Broadcast Music, Inc.
- Halberstadt, J., Rhodes, G., & Catty, S. R. (2003). Subjective and objective familiarity as explanations for the attraction to average faces. In F. Columbus (Ed.), Advances in psychology research (pp. 91–106). New York: Nova Science Publishers.
- Nida, S. A., & Koon, J. (1983). They get better looking at closing time around here, too. Psychological Reports, 52(2), 657–658.
- Pennebaker, J. W., Dyer, M. A., Caulkins, R. S., Litowitz, D. L., Ackreman, P. L., Anderson, D. B., et al. (1979). Don’t the girls get prettier at closing time: A country and western application to psychology.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5(1), 122–125.
- Rhodes, G., Halberstadt, J., Jeffery, L., & Palermo, R. (2005). The attractiveness of average faces is not a generalized mere exposure effect. Social Cognition, 23, 205–217.
- Johnco, C., Wheeler, L,.& Taylor.A., (2010). They do get prettier at closing time: A repeated measures study of the closing-time effect and alcohol. Social Influence, 5:4, 261-271.