How attractive you look depends on the attractiveness of the people around you, new research finds.
An average-looking person is rated as more attractive when surrounded by unappealing faces.
Dr Nicholas Furl, the study’s author, said:
“Rightly or wrongly, the way people look has a profound impact on the way others perceive them.
We live in a society obsessed with beauty and attractiveness, but how we measure and understand these concepts is still a grey area.
Until now, it’s been understood that a person’s level of attractiveness is generally steady.
If you saw a picture of George Clooney today, you would rate him as good-looking as you would tomorrow.
However, this work demonstrates that the company we keep has an effect on how attractive we appear to others.”
People in the study were shown a series of faces and rated them for attractiveness.
At the same time, ‘distractor’ faces were also shown to them.
Sometimes the distractor faces were more attractive, sometimes less.
Dr Furl explained that too much choice can have a detrimental effect:
“The presence of a less attractive face does not just increase the attractiveness of a single person, but in a crowd could actually make us even more choosey!
We found that the presence of a ‘distractor’ face makes differences between attractive people more obvious and that observers start to pull apart these differences, making them even more particular in their judgement.
It’s perhaps not too surprising that we are judged in relation to those around us.
This is a trope often seen in teen movies and romantic comedies, where a character associates themselves with a less attractive friend to elevate their own dating stakes.
Last year’s film The Duff, – an acronym for the rather unfortunate and unfair term ‘Designated Ugly Fat Friend’ explored how the main character felt being physically compared to her friendship group.
As in life, this film showed that how we perceive beauty and attractiveness isn’t fixed.
There are many other ways in which we decide who we are attracted to.
There will certainly be more research in years to come on this complicated area of human interaction, and I am excited to see where this research takes us.”
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Furl, 2016).
Pretty face image from Shutterstock