Whether you’re a casual user of social media sites like facebook and twitter or an avid online dater accessing eHarmony or Match.com, chances are you’ve created a personal online profile and been faced with a decision: What should you post for your profile picture? Many people post head shots or selfies, while others opt for pictures of their children, spouses, pets, or even favorite quotes or symbols. If your goal is to be perceived as attractive (and let’s be honest, whose isn’t?), then new research by Drew Walker and Edward Vul at the University of California, San Diego suggests your best bet is to opt for a group shot with friends.
A photo with friends conveys the fact that you are amiable and well-liked, but oddly enough that is not what makes you more appealing. Instead, the new research shows that individual faces appear more attractive when presented in a group than when presented alone — a perceptually driven phenomenon known as the cheerleader effect.
And why does this work?:
Walker and Vul posit that the cheerleader effect arises from the interplay of three different visuo-cognitive processes. First, whenever we view a set of objects like an array of dots or a group of faces, our visual system automatically computes general information about the entire set, including average size of group members, theiraverage location, and even the average emotional expression on faces. Thus although the group contains many individual items, we naturally perceive those items as a set, and form our impressions on the basis of the collective whole.
In addition, the impression that we have of the group as a whole influences our perception of any one individual item. We tend to view individual members as being more like the group than they actually are. Thus 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.
As it turns out, we find average faces very attractive. Composite faces, which are generated by averaging individual faces together, are rated as significantly more attractive than the individual faces used to create them. According to Walker and Vul, if presenting a face in a group causes us to perceive that face as more similar to the average, we are likely to find that face more attractive.
In one experiment, the researchers found that a group of four was large enough to create that effect. Does this have implications for rock and roll?