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Attractiveness Judged by Group Composition

Attractiveness Judged by Group Composition

New research from the UK suggests that if you want to be considered as good-looking, then it is best to hang out with a group of relatively unattractive individuals.

In the study, Royal Holloway University of London investigators discovered judgements of attractiveness vary depending on who is nearby, and how good-looking they are in comparison.

A person will rank higher on a scale of attractiveness when compared alongside less attractive people, than they would when judged alone.

The finding runs counter to common opinion that a person’s perceived level of attractiveness is somewhat fixed. However, the new study shows that context is key to assessing attractiveness.

Dr Nicholas Furl, a psychology professor and author of the study explains, “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.”

He continued, “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.”

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, demonstrates that how attractive we are is far from static, it can fluctuate. According to the paper, an averagely attractive face surrounded by undesirable faces will become more appealing than it would on its own.

Participants in the study were asked to rate pictures of different faces for attractiveness, one by one. They were then asked to assess the same faces, placed alongside ones perceived to be undesirable. When adding these “distractor faces”, the attractiveness of the same faces increased from the first round of ranking.

Participants were then shown two attractive faces, alongside a “distractor” face and asked to judge between them. The presence of the less attractive face was found to make the viewers more critical between the attractive face, as Dr Furl explained:

“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.”

Furl concluded, “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.”

Source: Royal Holloway

Attractiveness Judged by Group Composition

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Attractiveness Judged by Group Composition. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Sep 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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