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Science Confirms the Cheerleader Effect: People Look More Attractive When in Groups

Researchers put the "How I Met Your Mother" attractiveness theory to the test and found that there's some truth behind it.

October 31st, 2013

Tags: Attraction
Science Confirms the Cheerleader Effect: People Look More Attractive When in Groups

Having a few wingmen or women with you when you’re out looking to meet someone might actually be useful for more than just boosting your confidence. A few friends by your side could potentially make you more attractive to others, a new study confirms.

According to October 2013 research published in the journal Psychological Science, people seem more attractive when they’re part of a group than when they’re alone. To test this theory—which you might know as the “cheerleader effect,” thanks to Barney Stinson, Neil Patrick Harris’ womanizing playboy on “How I Met Your Mother”—participants were shown images of 100 people. Each person was shown in a photo alone and then also in a photo with two other people, and participants were asked to rate their attractiveness.

Participants rated the people as more attractive when they were surrounded by others. The effect held true even when the photos were presented as part of a collage, rather than a cohesive group shot. The reason for this perception, according to psychological scientists Drew Walker and Edward Vul of the University of California, San Diego, is kind of like a hot-or-not version of the law of averages. That is, when you look at a group of people, you subconsciously average out their faces, effectively editing out unattractive idiosyncrasies or imperfections. Therefore you perceive the person as better looking than you would in isolation, where those flaws would stand out.

MORE: Women Stare at Other Women's Breasts, Too

The increase in attractiveness is small—just enough to bump you from the 49th percentile of attractiveness to the 51st percentile—but that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. In fact, these findings got us talking around the office, and we realized we’ve see the cheerleader effect play out in our own lives in a few different scenarios:

International Travel While visiting Copenhagen, YouBeauty Editor-in-Chief Laura Kenney was completely intimidated by the groups of tall, blonde women she saw. "They all just looked so beautiful!" she recalls. But upon further inspection, she realized they looked more normal than she first thought, and not so different from women in any other country.

Shoe Shopping YouBeauty's health editor, Rachel Grumman Bender, can't resist a gorgeous display in a shoe store window. Whenever she passes, she thinks, “Wow, all of those shoes look amazing—I need to go in and look.” But then once she's inside and checks out each shoe individually, she realizes they weren’t that perfect after all. She's not as impressed as she had been seeing the big picture. Fortunately, this works in favor of those of us with dangerous shoe addictions.

Ogling Firefighters We love a man in uniform, and seeing a flock of firemen is enough to make our hearts melt. But for some reason, as YouBeauty photo editor Valerie Fischel points out, we’re much less impressed when we see one all alone. Maybe we're just deceived by the mass of uniforms, but we're convinced this is the cheerleader effect in full force.

QUIZ: How Do Your Face Proportions Measure Up?

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