Mind cheerleaders

Published on December 6th, 2013 | by No Artificial

What Should You Post For Your Facebook Profile Picture?

A new research reveals that individual faces appear more attractive when presented in a group than when presented alone.

According to a survey conducted by online dating service Zoosk, for online dating profile pictures, 75 percent of women and 62 percent of men have used a selfie (a type of self-portrait photograph).

It might surprise you, but if your goal is to be perceived as attractive (and let’s be honest, whose isn’t?), then a new study by Drew Walker and Edward Vul at the University of California, San Diego suggests that seeing faces in groups makes them appear more attractive. This perceptually driven phenomenon is called the cheerleader effect.


Walker and Vul propose that the cheerleader effect arises via an interplay of three different visuo-cognitive processes.

First, whenever we view a group of objects of faces, our visual system automatically computes general information about the entire set, including average size of group members, their average location, and even the average emotional expression on faces.

So even though the group contains many individual characteristics, we naturally perceive them as a set, and form our opinions on the basis of the whole “team”.

Second, the individual mebers are biased toward the group average, which means when we see a face in a crowd, we tend to perceive that face as similar to the average of all the faces in that crowd.

And the last approach, if presenting a face in a group, we find the average face very attractive.

To test this hypothesis, Walker and Vul conducted 5 experiments in which participants rated the attractiveness of faces that appeared in a group or individually.

For instance, the group shots included 3 male or 3 female faces together in the same scene. The individual portraits of each face were cropped from those group pictures. Contributors rated each face twice, once when shown as part of the group image, and once as an individual portrait, though the order of these ratings was randomized across participants. Both male and female faces were rated as more attractive when they appeared as part of a group picture than as a solo portrait.

The researchers previously thought, that individual faces that appeared in a large group would be rated as more attractive than those that appeared in a small group.
To their surprise, attractiveness scores were the same for faces rated in groups of 4, 9, or 16.

Even though the current research only evaluated attractiveness ratings for pictures, the cheerleader effect should function similarly regardless of whether you are interacting via Facebook, Instagram or face-to-face.

SAGE Journals: Hierarchical Encoding Makes Individuals in a Group Seem More Attractive


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