As if there weren’t already a stigma against going to a bar alone, now there’s added reason to travel in a pack: A study of undergrads found both men and women seem more attractive when they’re part of a group than when they’re aloneHierarchical Encoding Makes Individuals in a Group Seem More Attractive. Walker, D., Vul, E. University of California, San Diego. Psychological Science 2013 Oct 25. Epub ahead of print.. The researchers suggest that’s because our brains automatically scan all the faces in a crowd and compute an “average,” and people across cultures generally find average faces attractiveNew “Golden” Ratios for Facial Beauty. Pallet, P.M., Link, S., Lee, K. Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA. Vision Research 2010 Jan;50(2):149-52.Attractiveness of facial averageness and symmetry in non-Western cultures: in search of biologically based standards of beauty. Rhodes, G., Yoshikawa, S., Clark, A., et al. Department of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia. Perception 2001;30(5):611-25.. Turns out, when we go out with friends, we aren’t competing with them for sexual attention so much as helping each other appear hotter in the eyes of potential suitors.
While people may already be familiar with this phenomenon, known colloquially as the “cheerleader effect” and popularized by the T.V. show How I Met Your Mother, now the theory is backed up by actual science. How to apply this research to your next night on the town? The researchers give some advice: “Individuals with complimentary facial features — one person with narrow eyes and one person with wide eyes, for example — would enjoy a greater boost in perceived attractiveness when seen together.” Our only question: What happens the next morning, when we wake up next to dear wide-eyes? Will he still be as attractive without his narrow-eyed friend? Looks like we need to do some experimentation of our own — for science.