If you’ve ever watched the series ‘How I Met Your Mother’, then you might be familiar with some of Barney Stinson’s out-there ideas on dating. He is far from scientific, or anything approaching a role model, and yet occasionally the ideas he comes up with do have a kind of warped genius to them.
And at least once, a theory of Barney’s has been subsequently backed up by science. And the great news? You can use it to pick up better looking men and women…
Introducing: The Cheerleader Effect
The idea behind the ‘cheerleader effect’ (which Barney also calls ‘The Spice Girls Conspiracy’) is simple: groups of women (or men) will actually look more attractive than any of those individuals would on their own. Barney actually uses this as a warning for Ted – while he might think he’s approaching a table of hot girls, he’s actually approaching a table of not-so-hot girls but has been fooled by the fact that they’re in a group. Cue hilarity…
And as it turns out, according to research published in Psychological Science, Barney may have been right. According to studies, we are more likely to find people attractive if they are in a group – and particularly if that group is attractive.
How it Works
So why would this possibly be the case? Well actually it’s probably due to limitations in our brains’ ability to process large quantities of information. This is such, that when we see a large group of people we are then forced to take an ‘average’ of their facial features which causes less attractive individuals to ‘take on’ some of the features of the better looking ones.
You might also think that we would be more prone to look attractive in groups because it could signal popularity and acceptance. One some level, perhaps we think people in groups are good looking because other people seem to. Actually though this doesn’t really explain the fact that people look more attractive even when they’re in a crowd that they have no obvious affiliation with. That’s right – you look naturally more attractive when you’re standing on a busy street versus standing on that same road when it’s quiet. It seems that it really does just come down to our brains’ need to generalise for efficiency.
Interestingly the effect extends beyond this and has some other interesting implications and interactions. For instance, you might be wandering what would happen if someone who was already very attractive were to start hanging out with a group of people who were less attractive? Would their rating be lowered as we averaged out their good qualities with the less attractive features of their friends?
The studies suggest not, and the reason for this might be that we actually like people who look average. People who look average are more likely to look like us, they are more likely to fit the ‘norm’ that we are used to seeing, and they’re less likely to have any defects or disproportions. This in turn means that when we see someone in a crowd – even someone who’s already attractive – they will always benefit from looking more average at a glance.
What can happen though, is for particular features to be taken into account more than the overall whole. What this means then, is that if you’re someone who has very big ears, you can make yourself look even more attractive by standing in a group of people with very small ears. You might think that this would have the opposite effect of making your ears appear even larger by contrast, but in fact it doesn’t: people just see an overall ‘sea’ of ear and that ear is small.
So next time you’re out on the pull, take as many friends as you can. Especially the ones with the small ears…