The company we keep may decide how attractive we appear to others, according to a new study which found that judgement 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, researchers said.
Popular opinion points to a person's perceived level of attractiveness as somehow fixed. However, research from University of Royal Holloway London in the UK shows that context is key to assessing attractiveness. "Rightly or wrongly, the way people look has a profound impact on the way others perceive them," said Dr Nicholas Furl, from Royal Holloway's Department of Psychology.
"We live in a society obsessed with beauty and attractiveness, but how we measure and understand these concepts is still a grey area," said Furl. "Until now, it has 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," he said. The study demonstrates that how attractive we are is far from static, it can fluctuate. According to the research, 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 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 said.
"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," Furl said. The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.