The “Cheerleader effect” — also known as The Bridesmaid Paradox, Sorority Girl Syndrome, and, for a brief window in the mid-90s, The Spice Girls Conspiracy — is a theory put forth by How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson positing that women in groups look more attractive than when they are pulled out an examined individually. “They seem hot, but only as a group. Take each individually? Sled dogs.”
Turns out, there is some merit to the Cheerleader effect, according to a study published in Psychological Science.
Why does the cheerleader effect work, according to the study? Hierarchal encoding, of course! What does that mean? Here’s the findings from the study abstract:
(a) The visual system automatically computes ensemble representations of faces presented in a group, (b) individual members of the group are biased toward this ensemble average, and (c) average faces are attractive. 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.
In other words, when we see people in a group — both men and women — we tend to average them out, and while “average” doesn’t sound like a compliment, in this context, it works: “average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies,” so says a study researcher from the University of California, San Diego. It is not a huge swing, but the differences are statistically significant.
Here’s an example. Check out these hot women (image via TV Guide)
And here’s Rachel Dratch isolated (no offense to Dratch).