People seem more attractive in a group than they do apart

October 29, 2013

People tend to be rated as more attractive when they're part of a group than when they're alone, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

This phenomenon -- first dubbed the "cheerleader effect" by ladykiller Barney Stinson on the popular TV show How I Met Your Mother -- suggests that having a few friends around might be one way to boost perceived attractiveness.

According to psychological scientists Drew Walker and Edward Vul of the University of California, San Diego, people tend to "average out" the features of faces in a group, thereby perceiving an individual's face as more average than they would be otherwise.

While being average-looking might seem like a bad thing, research suggests that's not necessarily the case for attractiveness:

"Average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies," Walker explains. "Perhaps it's like Tolstoy's families: Beautiful people are all alike, but every unattractive person is unattractive in their own way."

Walker and Vul suspected that the attractiveness of average faces, coupled with the tendency to encode groups of objects as an "ensemble," might actually support the cheerleader effect. To test this, the researchers performed five experiments with over 130 undergraduate students.

Participants were shown pictures of 100 people, and were asked to rate their attractiveness. Sometimes the person being rated was in a group portrait with two other people, and other times the pictures were cropped to show the person alone.

Overall, participants rated both female and male subjects as more attractive in the group shot than when pictured alone. Being seen in a group confers an attractiveness benefit that's roughly enough to bump someone from the 49th percentile to the 51st percentile of attractiveness.

"The effect is definitely small, but some of us need all the help we can get," Vul jokes.

In several other experiments, Walker and Vul discovered that the pictures don't need to be from a cohesive group portrait to obtain this effect. When participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of one person out of a collage of 4, 9, and 16 pictures, the "group" picture was still rated more highly than when that individual's picture was presented alone.

Walker and Vul are now exploring the nuances of these initial findings:

"If the average is more attractive because unattractive idiosyncrasies tend to be averaged out, then individuals with complimentary facial features -- one person with narrow eyes and one person with wide eyes, for example -- would enjoy a greater boost in perceived attractiveness when seen together, as compared to groups comprised of individuals who have more similar features."
-end-
For more information about this study, please contact: Drew Walker at dehoffma@ucsd.edu.

The article abstract is available online: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/10/25/0956797613497969.abstract

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Hierarchical Encoding Makes Individuals in a Group Seem More Attractive" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Attractiveness Articles from Brightsurf:

Is being generous the next beauty trend?
Research from Indiana University found that more attractive people are more likely to be givers, and givers are rated as more attractive.

Unattainable standards of beauty for today's woman
While the average American woman's waist circumference and dress size has increased over the past 20 years, Victoria's Secret fashion models have become more slender, with a decrease in bust, waist, hips and dress size, though their waist to hip ratio (WHR) has remained constant.

Study finds companies may be wise to share cybersecurity efforts
Research finds that when one company experiences a cybersecurity breach, other companies in the same field also become less attractive to investors.

Kindness is a top priority in a long-term partner according to a new international study
One of the top qualities that we look for in a long-term partner is kindness, according to new research by Swansea University.

What do the red 'ornaments' of female macaques mean?
Scientists demonstrated that, contrary to what had been assumed for several years, colour variations among female macaques do not precisely indicate the time of ovulation.

Backed in black: How to get people to buy more produce
Researchers may have figured out the secret to get people to buy more fresh produce: dress veggies up in black.

Facial plastic surgery in men enhances perception of attractiveness, trustworthiness
In the first of a kind study, plastic surgeons at Georgetown University found that when a man chose to have facial plastic surgery, it significantly increased perceptions of attractiveness, likeability, social skills, or trustworthiness.

Is facial cosmetic surgery associated with perception changes for attractiveness, masculinity, personality traits in men?
Photographs of 24 men before and after facial cosmetic surgery were part of this survey study to examine whether surgery was associated with perceived changes in attractiveness, masculinity and a variety of personality traits.

Commentary asks: What constitutes beauty and how is it perceived?
Beauty has many facets. Research shows there are many biological, psychological, cultural and social aspects that influence how beauty and attractiveness are perceived.

Gender bias sways how we perceive competence in faces
Faces that are seen as competent are also perceived as more masculine, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Read More: Attractiveness News and Attractiveness Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.