When you set up your online dating account, one of the hardest things to do is pick a good picture. Do you go with an outdoor shot to show how adventurous you are? A shirtless photo to show off the abs? Your high school glamour shot? A snap of yourself wasted at a party? Well, according to science, you should probably pick a picture of yourself with other people.
Cindi May at Scientific American explains the results of a new study on "the cheerleader effect"—the idea that people look more attractive when presented with a group than they do by themselves. This is a lot like other illusions, May explains:
This visual illusion is mediated by similar cognitive and perceptual processes that underlie other well-known visual illusions like the Ebbinghaus illusion or the moon illusion. With the Ebbinghaus illusion, a medium-sized dot appears much larger when surrounded by a field of smaller dots, but appears much smaller when surrounded by a field of larger dots. The moon illusion is the perception that the moon seems larger when it appears on the horizon than up in the sky. All of these visual illusions demonstrate that what we "see" is not always a simple or direct reflection of what is right in front of us. Instead, what we see depends on both the physical stimulus coded by our visual systems (what cognitive scientists refer to asbottom up processing), and a blend of contextual information, expectations, and prior knowledge (known as top down processing).
And when it comes to your photo, many of the same phenomena apply. They argue that our brains average out the attractiveness and likeness of a group we're viewing as a whole. They also argue that because our brain likes faces a lot, more faces is probably better. In other words:
Taken together, these phenomena suggest that individual faces will seem more attractive when presented in a group because they will appear more similar to the average group face, which is more attractive than group members’ individual faces.
So skip the shirtless bathroom selfie, and go with a group shot.
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