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People appear more attractive in a group

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Group picture by Dave Austria

If you want someone to find you attractive, show up in a group first because a new study says others will find you more beautiful or handsome if you do so.

According to the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, people’s facial features are perceived as more attractive when they’re in a group.

This is because the features of faces when viewed in a group “average out”. In other words, being in a group helps others perceive you as more attractive than if you were by yourself.

For the study, researchers from the University of California in San Diego conducted five experiments on more than 130 college students.

In one such experiment, the students were asked to look at 100 photographs of people and then rate how attractive they were. The researchers showed the students photos of people who were sometimes seen standing in a group with two other individuals of the same sex, and other times seen alone in a cropped photo.

As a result, the students participating in the study rated those appearing in a group higher on the scale of attractiveness than those appearing in a cropped photo by themselves. The researchers pointed out that when compared to solo photos, individuals seen in a group photo were ranked as much as 51 percent more attractive, compared with 49 percent when viewed in a cropped photo of the individual alone.

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In a different experiment, the students were shown photos of individuals in a collage, which contained a set of either 4, 9 or 16 photos. The students still rated these individuals better looking when they appeared in a group photo than when they appeared in a cropped photo by themselves.

Referred to as the “cheerleader effect”, the researchers think that three "cognitive phenomena" may explain why people are viewed as more attractive in a group:

1. It may be due to how human eyes automatically visualize facial features in groups;

2. A second possible explanation is that individual members of a group may show partiality towards those appearing in the photo with them.

3. And, third, people have a tendency to perceive “average” looking people as better looking in a group.

When you combine these three “cognitive phenomena”, the researchers suggest that the reason individual faces appear more attractive in a group is because their faces seem more similar to the average group face, and the average group face is perceived to be more attractive than the faces of individuals alone.

SOURCE: 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.
Image by Dave Austria. License: Creative Commons