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People Seem To Be More Attractive in a Group Than They Do Apart

PqDoTtY59sxGSWb1eJ0pyMUoeKSNzRk0JZ0_skhicrpKAQAA6wAAAEpQ_260x196Popular TV show How I Met Your Mother once proposed “cheerleader effect”, addressing that when you are surrounded by a group of friends, you will seem to be more attractive. Recently, Psychologists Drew Walker and Edward Vul at the University of California, San Diego, verified this hypothesis proposed in the TV show—when we are looking at a group of people, we are prone to average their facial characteristics, making one of them seems to be more average than looking only at her.

It sounds like to average faces, which might not be a good thing. However, in regard of attractiveness, there is another story. Walker said:” An average face seems to be more attractive, maybe because the process of averaging can eliminate those unattractive facial characteristics. Perhaps, we can use a rewritten sentence like “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy) to better explain this finding—attractive faces are all alike; every unattractive face is unattractive in its own way.

Walker and Vul speculated that when we do the face and attractiveness averaging, we tend to regard a group of subjects as an “entity”, which is in support to the “cheerleader effect”. To prove this hypothesis, they found more than 130 college students for experiments.

Participants were shown with 100 photos, either a portrait of three or a personal portrait. The boys and girls might appear in a group photo and sometimes individually and the participants were asked to rate their attractiveness. The order for a face to show up individually or in group portrait was random and each participant needed to rate the attractiveness of 300 girls or boys when they were appeared individually or in a group.

The results showed that the participants rated attractiveness very differently on boys and girls, however, collectively speaking, a person had a higher rating when he/she appeared in a group portrait that individually.

In another experiment, Walker and Vul attempted to investigate the result of simply putting faces together instead of group portraits. They separated each face in the previous experiments and compared the attractiveness ratings when they were shown individually or when they came up in a face puzzle with other 3, 8, 15 people (put all the faces in 2*2, 3*3 and 4*4 squares). This experiment suggests that the attractiveness of a face is also higher in the face puzzles than when it presented alone

Moreover, Walker and Vul are now exploring the nuances of these initial findings:” If the average is more attractive because the unattractive idiosyncrasies are prone to be averaged out, then individuals with complementary facial characteristics—one person with a narrow eyes and another with wide eyes, for instance—would enjoy a greater boost in perceived attractiveness when they are seen together, as compared to groups comprised of individuals who have similar facial features.”


  1. People Seem More Attractive in a Group Than They Do Apart──Science Daily [2013-10-29]
  2. Hierarchical Encoding Makes Individuals in a Group Seem More Attractive──Psychological Science [2013-10-25]