Women are more attractive in groups than when they're alone because of something called the 'cheerleader effect'

  • Research shows that women seem more attractive when they’re in a group compared to when they’re alone.
  • It could be because when people look at a group, their brains average out the faces they see.
  • This psychological trick is known as “the cheerleader effect.”

When you ask people who use dating apps about what turns them off, something that often comes up is “group photos.”

One or two is fine, but the whole dating app thing is rendered pretty useless if you can’t identify which person in a photo you’re talking to.

However, there could be a subconscious reason some of us favour our group pictures. According to a new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, women come across as more attractive when they are in a group, rather than when they’re alone.

So, as well as making it look like you have friends and an active social life, that group picture might also give the impression you’re better looking than you really are.

The scientists, from Flinders University in Adelaide, conducted two experiments to test out the theory, which previous researchers have dubbed “the cheerleader effect.”

In experiment 1, participants were presented with photos of women in a group or alone. The results showed that the location of the other faces in the group, called “distractor faces,” didn’t impact the cheerleader effect, and women in the group were rated as more attractive.

Experiment 2 involved manipulating the location of the target faces themselves to the far left, right, or centre of the screen. Again, participants said the faces in the group pictures were more attractive and the person’s location in the group had no impact.

“Together, our results show that the cheerleader effect is a robust phenomenon, which is not influenced by the spatial arrangement of the faces in the group,” the researchers concluded.

Research from 2013 showed how the cheerleader effect could work. Drew Walker, an author of the study from the University of California, San Diego explained that our brain will tend to average out the facial features of everyone in a group, making each member of the group look more average than they would alone.

“Average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies,” he said at the time.

You don’t necessarily have to know the people you’re standing with, either. Results of the study showed how people in collages of individual photos were rated as more attractive. As a result, you could seem just as attractive standing in a crowd of strangers as you do chatting to your friends.

“Thus, having a few wing-men – or wing-women – may indeed be a good dating strategy,” the study concluded. “Particularly if their facial features complement, and average out, one’s unattractive idiosyncrasies.”

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