Actually, it’s the Cheerleader Effect:
Who should I hang out with if I want to look the most attractive? And how many of said people must I acquire?
The basic idea of research published this week in the journal Psychological Science is that our asymmetries and disproportionalities tend to “average out” amid a group of faces, and our weird little faces are perceived as slightly less weird.
Drew Walker and Edward Vul of the University of California, San Diego, did five experiments wherein subjects rated the attractiveness of people in photographs. Some people were pictured alone, and others were in groups. (Sometimes the “groups” were actually collages of people alone.)
In every case, for men and women, the people in groups got higher attractiveness ratings. Walker reasoned: “Average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies.” They refer to this as the “cheerleader effect.”
I did, in fact, notice this phenomenon on a couple of occasions (actually processes over a period of time). First, we used to have football tickets (college) next to the visiting team’s section of the stands so we (well, okay, “I”) got to see the other team’s cheer squad(s) close up. I learned a few things:
1) USC’s Song Girls are h.o.t but they’re not that good.
2) Oregon has the best.
3) Many of them aren’t all that attractive.
Second, I became acquainted with one of the UW’s cheerleaders. She, too, isn’t all that attractive (very nice though and a good dancer) and that led me to check out the others in a little more detail and it was the same: some are quite pretty, others not so much. I also watched that one show about the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders a couple of times and. . . .well, okay, most of them are very attractive. But that said, I intuitively like the conclusions here because we tend to kind of lump all cheerleaders into the “hot” category even when some aren’t all that. Of course, at least at the college level (and below) the main criterion for selection isn’t hotness, it’s various cheer-related abilities (dance, gymnastics, etc.). And I suppose the outfits make up for some of that.
Perhaps this also has wider applicability? If I see a plumber, for example, associated with other plumbers that I know are good at their jobs, I will probably assume he/she is good as well.
This is not necessarily valid, however. My (good) plumbers had a drywaller that they used a lot, so I assumed he would be good, too. He wasn’t. But, after all, it’s an “effect”, not a truth.