Monday, April 20, 2009

Ooooo - BUSTED! Alcohol doesn't impair a guy's ability to determine age

ResearchBlogging.orgMany accused of statutory rape claim two things - 1) that the girl consented and 2) that they thought she was older. The first is unimportant - if the girl is underage, it's still rape. But in the US, there is a special defense clause which allows defendents leiniency if there is reasonable evidence they "mistook" a younger girl for one of consenting age. Many times lawyers claim that a girl's makeup or guy's consumption of alcohol impaired the offender's judgement of her age. As an excuse, it's pretty common among men charged with all varieties of sex with a minor. Well, researchers wanted to see if those factors really had an effect on how men (and women) estimated a girl's age. The results are clear: alcohol had no effect on a man's estimate of a girl's age, and makeup had little.

The study, published in the May edition of British Journal of Psychology, took faces from 17 yr old girls and manipulated them to be a little younger and older looking as well as more or less made-up. They then asked 120 sober adults to guess how old and rate how attractive the faces were. The faces which were made to 'look older' did by about 2 years. Those with make-up did look older, but barely. And, across the board, 'younger' faces were deemed more attractive than the 'older' ones.

BeerThey then got another 120 adults to different levels of drunk and asked them the same questions. They found that the alcohol did have an effect on attractiveness - the more the participants drank, the hotter a mature girl got, if she was wearing make-up (but they found no effect of alcohol statistically on the attractiveness of immature faces or those without makeup). But one thing that didn't change was the men's ability to estimate age. There was no difference between the age of the photos as estimated by the sober and plastered men. As the authors write, "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." So saying that anything makes a guy mistake an 11 yr old for 19 simply doesn't cut it.

Interestingly, alcohol did make the women perceive the matured faces as younger. And all participants overestimated the girl's ages by about 2.5 years. So there is some validity to guy's arugment (and women's, if made) that they "thought she was older" - just not much. The excuse that make up and alcohol made a girl look four or five years older, however, is just that - an excuse. In reality, guys can still tell a girl's age pretty well when drunk. So while a few beers might make a girl look hotter and make a guy more likely to act on his impulsive desire to sleep with her, he knows that a 12 yr old isn't 18, no matter how much he wants to pretend he doesn't when the cops arrive.

Results like these bring into question the validity of "mistake of age" defenses, especially in cases of statutory rape where the accused is more than 10 years older than the minor. As long as a minor is at least two years younger than the consenting age, it's likely that guys know she's underage. The researchers also pointed out that other cues of age, like tone of voice or language use, aren't factored into this study, so it's possible that men's age estimates are even more accurate in the presence of these variables. At any rate, it seems the excuses for statutory rape are fading fast.

Egan, V., & Cordan, G. (2009). Barely legal: Is attraction and estimated age of young female faces disrupted by alcohol use, make up, and the sex of the observer? British Journal of Psychology, 100 (2), 415-427 DOI: 10.1348/000712608X357858


ranka said...

The researchers also pointed out that other cues of age, like tone of voice or language use, aren't factored into this study, so it's possible that men's age estimates are even more accurate in the presence of these variables.Actually, if anything, that would seem to contradict the study. All the study looked at was the ability of people to estimate, solely on visual basis age. It seems quite plausible to me that alcohol could diminish one's ability to analyze such things as tone of voice and language usage.

Christie Lynn said...

Ranka: perhaps, but in general, people are pretty good at judging age by voice irregardless of cultural or linguistic differences in vocal patterns. I would assume that hearing the girls speak would only help them realize a girl's age. Furthermore, when the two (looks and voice)conflict experimentally, previous studies have found that voice contributes less than looks to age perception. So even if drunk people misjudge ages by voice, they would still know a girl is underage by looks.

ranka said...

Ah, interesting. I have nothing to go on personally, as I'm extremely bad at judging age. Mid-teens and mid-twenties look largely the same to me. Basically, "not a child, but still young"

Roadhunter said...

How about the number one cause of mistaken age; the girl lying about her age? What are we supposed to do, ID them?
Even that wouldn't work in all cases. I dated a 17 year old who had a fake ID showing she was 22.

liliannattel said...

Important study--I hope that they do further research incorporating those other aspects such as voice, etc.

zayzayem said...

But you also have to remember that these are subjects with drug-induced impairment of sensory perception. The ability to follow vocal and other non-visual cues may be impaired enough that they outweigh the non-impairment of visual-based perception.

To me its a non-sequitor assumption.

I had a close call incident overseas in bar - which had a sign out front saying "18+ only" - luckily I asked her which university she went to and she said she was a different kind of student.

I'd also be curious to see how age of the beholder affects their ability to accurately ascertain age (ie. I'd predict older men would be better than younger men at accurately guessing ages, from an experience viewpoint)

Christie Lynn said...

@Zayzem True, so I guess they'd have to do more research to see if the effect of alcohol alter perceptions in person :)

They did look at ages in this study, and found that age of participant (male or female) had no effect on age perception. I think, though, that not all studies which have looked at that agree on that... some have found an "in-group bias" meaning that those of close age can tell their own age apart better.

Stephanie B said...

I really like your blog (and I never bought the old "I had no idea" thing or we wouldn't have so many sites talking about how young their nude models are).

I like your blog so much, I'm giving it an award. Just wanted to let you know.

figleaf said...

Great find, Cristie! As my (main) blog title suggests I don't have a lot of patience with "but I didn't know she was..." excuses.

Also, I saw your "you ask a glass of water" joke at the bottom of your page and... got a glass of milk out of the fridge just so I could have something to blow out my nose. You've got seriously good taste in nerd humor!


JSB said...

Nice Article... I liked reading it...


BEST said...

Hmm... I will say not a bed one.... keep it up buddy...


bakakurisu said...

"The researchers also pointed out that other cues of age, like tone of voice or language use, aren't factored into this study, so it's possible that men's age estimates are even more accurate in the presence of these variables."

How do you figure this? How could one judge a girl's age by language use? What if she's smart/dumb for her age? I've known 16 year-old girls who talk like 26 year-old women, and vice-versa!

And Road-Hunter's right; a lot of girls lie about there age. If she's drinking, chances are decent that she's lied to SOMEBODY...

This is propaganda.