Mean_GirlsThere are two opposing views regarding a particular aspect of female friendships. One folk belief suggests that truly beautiful girls tend to surround themselves with physically unattractive female friends, as this creates a contrast effect that accentuates their beauty. A second possibility is that women of roughly equal physical attractiveness tend to assort into same-sex friendships. Think of the teenage Cluelessmovies Mean Girls or Clueless for instantiations of this strategy. Which do you think is the operative reality?

In a recent paper published in Human Nature, April Bleske-Rechek and Melissa Lighthall explored this exact issue. They took separate photos of female friends, asked the women to rate themselves as well as their friends on looks, and then used raters to provide independent ratings of the women's physical attractiveness. Furthermore, they asked the women to provide a comparative rating of physical attractiveness between themselves and their female friends (i.e., which within a pair of friends is the more attractive one). The goal in this case was to see how the inequity of attractiveness within the friendship dyad would affect perceptions of mating rivalry.

Here are the key results:

(1) Women's self-ratings of physical attractiveness were positively correlated (r = 0.30, p < .05). In other words, there is a positive association between the self-perceived attractiveness ratings of women and that of their friends.

(2) Independent raters' ratings of physical attractiveness were also positively correlated and even more strongly than above (r = 0.61, p < .001). In other words, there is a positive association between the attractiveness ratings of women and their friends, as gauged by independent judges.

(3) Women who were the lesser attractive one within their friendship judged the more attractive friend as being a "stauncher" mating rival. In other words, even though pairs of friends are of roughly equal physical attractiveness, less attractive women construed their friends as mating rivals (more so than the other way around). One might imagine how such dynamics can create envy within same-sex female friendships. See my earlier post about the evolutionary roots of envy here.

You might recall my earlier posts wherein I discussed how people engage in matching when choosing mates, dogs, and cars (see here, here, and here). It would seem that one element that drives female friendships is a matching process based on physical attractiveness.

Have a good weekend. Ciao for now.

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About the Author

Gad Saad

Gad Saad, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Concordia University and the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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