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If you have ever watched the hit TV show How I Met Your Mother, you are probably familiar with the "cheerleader effect," as character Barney Stinson calls it. This is the hypothesis that people appear more attractive in a group than on their own. Now, new research suggests this may be true.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, say that when looking at a group of people, the features of faces within a group "average out," meaning people are perceived as being more attractive than they would be if they were on their own.
To reach their findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, the research team conducted five experiments with over 130 undergraduate students.
In one of the experiments, the participants were shown photographs of 100 people and were asked to rate their attractiveness.
The person being rated in each photo was sometimes pictured with two other people of the same gender, while at other times the same picture of the person was cropped to show them standing alone.
Results from this experiment revealed that overall, the participants rated individuals as being more attractive in a group shot than when they were pictured alone.
The researchers note that in terms of measures of attractiveness, being in a group can boost a person from being 49% attractive to 51%.
In another experiment, the participants were shown photos of individual people, but they were made into a collage of either 4, 9 or 16 pictures.
The researchers found that these people were still rated more attractive by the participants when they were with other photos, compared with when they were shown in a single photo.
The researchers believe that this "cheerleader effect" may be a result of three "cognitive phenomena."
They explain that, firstly, our visual system may automatically compute "ensemble representations" of faces presented within a group. Secondly, individual members of the group may be "biased" towards this ensemble average, and finally, we perceive "average" faces as being attractive.
"Taken together, these phenomena suggest that individual faces will seem more attractive when presented in a group because they will appear more similar to the average group face, which is more attractive than group members' individual faces."
The researchers told Medical News Today they were also surprised that people deem "blurry faces" more attractive:"While one might be tempted to call this a 'beer goggles' effect, alcohol does not actually make the world blurry, so it is perhaps best described as a 'benefit of the doubt' effect - when people can't make out the features of a face, they assume the face to be more attractive than they would find it, had they seen it clearly."
The team says they are now exploring what these findings mean for those with facial features that may stand out in a group:
"If the average is more attractive because unattractive idiosyncrasies tend to be averaged out, then individuals with complementary 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."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that women are attracted to men with low-pitched voices.
Written by Honor Whiteman
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
Hierarchical Encoding Makes Individuals in a Group Seem More Attractive, doi: 10.1177/0956797613497969, Drew Walker, Edward Vul, published in Psychological Science, 29 October 2013, Abstract.
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