The Cheerleader Effect: 10 seconds to a prettier you

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Culturs-expert-flagHave you heard of the cheerleader effect? You may remember the term from watching one of the episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Barney, one of the characters of the American TV Series, confidently states that a woman always appears prettier in a group as opposed to alone! Surprisingly, a research study recently came up with findings that a person does in fact appear more attractive when they are among a group of people rather than alone.[1]

The study was based on five different experiments using both photographs of women and men. In the first and second experiments, they used group photos and cropped each person out to create an individual portrait. In the fourth experiment, they change the method by not using cropped photos, but instead simply taking individual photos and group photos of that same person. The researchers observed that those looking at the photos found an individual more appealing in a group.

The authors of the study gave suggestions as to why this may be the case using previous studies. One of the explanations they provided was that the average level of attractiveness is made from the different members of the group and will often be higher than one person on their own.[2]

I was personally not surprised about this study’s conclusions. When I was single, I remember thinking how much more attractive someone was when they’d be interacting in a lively manner in a group. When I’d go out to a bar with a friend for a glass of wine on a Friday night, and we’d see a group of guys chatting away, I was more likely to notice someone in an animated group of friends.

Why? Well, for a start, we are social animals.[3] This means that I will more likely to gravitate towards a person who seems comfortable and confident in a group setting. Also, as that person is not desperately looking around to meet someone as they are focused on the conversation they are in. It also means I’d be keener to grab that person’s attention. Everyone likes a bit of a challenge. Although to be clear, there’s an extent to which you want a challenge: you still want that person you have a crush on to acknowledge you at some point.

As someone who has grown up moving schools five times, I’ve been accustomed to meeting new people and making new friends. An ease of speaking to others and being comfortable in a social situation is something I admire and value in friends and a partner.  When you see someone in a group, you can also perceive fragments of their personality by looking at the way they interact with other people. Just through non-verbal cues and reactions, you can learn so much from a person, and a group allows this to be more visible.  Maybe there really is something in what Barney called the ‘Cheerleader Effect’…

[1] Walker, D., & Vul, E. (2013). Hierarchical encoding makes individuals in a group seem more attractive. Psychological science, 0956797613497969.

[2] Walker, D., & Vul, E. (2013). Hierarchical encoding makes individuals in a group seem more attractive. Psychological science, 0956797613497969.

[3] Dijksterhuis, A. (2005). Why we are social animals: The high road to imitation as social glue. Perspectives on imitation: From neuroscience to social science, 2, 207-220.



  1. Thanks for the research and background on this article! I think that you not only appeal to other people more when in a group setting but, you feel more attractive too because you’re surrounded by friends and you’re happy. It’s interesting to learn about the psychology behind this topic. 

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