Cognitive Bias Friday: the Cheerleader Effect

After reading about this cognitive bias, I feel like I need to change all of my social media pictures from individual photos to group photos, preferably a group photo where everyone is better-looking than me, which is easily done. In fact, it would be impossible for that not to happen.

The reason? The cheerleader effect.

The cheerleader effect, also known as the group attractiveness effect, is the cognitive bias that causes people to think individuals are more attractive when they are in a group.

The phrase was coined by the fictional character Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) in “Not a Father’s Day”, an episode of the television series How I Met Your Mother, first aired in November 2008. Barney points out to his friends a group of women that initially seem attractive, but who are all unattractive when examined individually.

This was followed up by research in 2013 by Drew Walker and Edward Vul of the University of California, San Diego, in which they did five experiments wherein subjects rated the attractiveness of people in photographs. Some people were pictured alone, and others were in groups. (Sometimes the “groups” were actually collages of people alone.)

In every case, for men and women, the people in groups got higher attractiveness ratings. Walker reasoned: “Average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies.”

Walker and Vul concluded that “Having a few wingmen or wingwomen may indeed be a good dating strategy.”

It may also be a way for me to not immediately turn people away from my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn pages as well as my WordPress About Me page. Such turning away can wait until people actually browse through such sites.

I need to find that photo of me and my wingmen – Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Tom Cruise – hanging out on the Riviera. Once I do, you’ll find it on all my social media pages. It’s the ultimate averaging process for a guy like me.

I just hope the sudden surge in my popularity doesn’t overwhelm the servers…


70 thoughts on “Cognitive Bias Friday: the Cheerleader Effect

  1. This makes me wish I had an identical twin, as that would make me look more attractive. Especially if he was a Siamese twin, always attached to me, so that we would always be in a group. But this study seems like a no-brainer, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of cheerleaders that looked unattractive. What an easy way to earn some grant money, by the U of C.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lots of different types of “cognitive bias” and I wonder how many of them were initiated by someone suffering fro the Dunning-Kruger Effect, also an example of “cognitive bias”. And … just don’t get me started on “unconscious bias” 🤣🤣

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Perhaps you could write about your experience on the unconscious bias training ….. the concept, the specific context, your learning and how your unconscious “changed” !

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks Jim, just read it, and now 4 years on there is still no substantiated evidence of reliability OR validity of these IATs. When I was taking my psychology degree it was drilled into us that this was the essence of any meaningful “test or profile”. Then when I was designing tests for use in organisations it would be the first thing I was asked about.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. that’s good to know about the the lack of reliability or validity of such tests; does that suggest that we aren’t as subconsciously biased as we are led to believe?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hi Jim, not necessarily. It suggests that the tests are crap though😂 Their efficacy would be destroyed by a half decent psychologist in 5 mins! Here’s the question, if your child was given an ability test at age 11 to determine their education stream, and the test was known to have low reliability (result varies from day to day or week to week) plus low validity (no evidence correlated by other tests proving it IS measuring what it says it does), would you be happy? Thought not!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know what to make of this. I would say that when people are hanging out with their friends, they are more likely to be laughing. When we see jovial people having fun and laughing, we might see them as more attractive.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. I have a life size cardboard cutout of myself which my oldest son made for me. I position it in all group photos and then I can take the picture without trying to make a selfie or having to ask some stranger to snap it. I never age and presume I will be in family pictures after I die. If someone else is taking the photo, I often appear twice. I can drape different clothes on the shoulders and I am positioned in the back row. Many people never notice.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. No. That’s an interesting thought. It works well in photographs because everyone else in the picture is flattened into two dimensions. But if the State Patrol drove by, it would look like a thin piece of cardboard propped up in the seat. I could afford the ticket but not the embarrassment!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Love your theoretical thoughts on this. Now, I wonder if the size of the group has any impact. By the way, congratulations on reaching 2000 followers. Another great milestone for a fantastic blog!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. thanks, Brad,,,, and good question. The research seemed to suggest that the size of the group did not have any impact on this effect.

      and thanks for the congrats – I think I’ll treat myself to one Oreo cookie today 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am hoping for funding for my schitt’s creek research, stat!

    personally, I am more self-conscious when having pictures taken of me alone, so maybe I look more relaxed and happy in group photos, no matter the group, even if random strangers.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think Schitt’s Creek would provide a wealth of research opportunities 🙂

      and that’s an interesting point about being self-conscious in individual photos; seems like a viable explanation…


  7. How interesting! I think that the happiness level is very likely a contributing factor, but since we are talking about the subconscious could there be a level of competition where everyone is making their best effort to look prettier than the one next to them? It may tie in with what Beth said about being self conscious since in this situation everyone is putting their best face forward and none of them is looking at each other to see what they may be doing.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I think I look my best in group photos when I have my back to the camera. I wonder what the research could do with that.

    And some research based on Ted Lasso could be good too: how to make everyone around you happy when you’re failing…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. everyone would wonder who the mystery man is, and everyone likes a good mystery.

      and Ted Lasso would be a good show to research, only because it would require me to watch the first season all over again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll try it – I’ve always hated having my photo taken.

        A good excuse for some research, I think. They are showing Little Birds here again at present, so I’m seeing a lot of the lovely Juno…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve never heard of Little Birds, so I just checked, and here is what I found:

        The series made its US premiere on the Starz channel on 6 June 2021.

        Unfortunately we do not get the Starz channel; it sounds like a good show…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Sorry, as it is on the Sky Atlantic channel here I thought it was an American production, as that is what that channel mostly airs. Turns out it is British, partly made around the Mediterranean. Here’s a bit more about it – you’ll see why I’m enjoying it for the second time 😉


  9. Look forward to seeing that group photo of you! LOL!
    Hmmm….now I am going to have to look at my photos and see what I think. Glad you brought this important study to my attention. Now I have an excuse to not have my picture taken. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I may have to get their approval before I can post the photo, after all, I am bringing down the average of how good they look…

      and I only share the most groundbreaking research out there…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This cognitive bias is very interesting. I wonder if the cheerleader effect works if all the others in the group were also pictures of me. Nah, that would make things worse, I’m sure. 😊

    Also congrats on 2,000 followers. We were just about tied a couple of months ago. You’ve zoomed past me. 😃


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