How Other People Can Make You More Attractive

Enhancing your dating profile pictures.

Posted Jun 24, 2019

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Man with attractive women
Source: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

If you are using online dating, then your dating site profile picture is probably the first impression that others will have of you. So how can you use this to increase your chances of success in the online dating world? 

A static picture of you on your own might say very little about you, so would it help if your dating pictures were more dynamic? For example, if you were performing some activity such as playing a sport or a musical instrument. In addition to this, would it be better to be pictured with other people, rather than alone?

A recent survey by Dating Scout (2018) revealed that a large number of people who date include pictures of themselves with other people such as their friends and family. Indeed, some 18% of all pictures uploaded include people in the company of others. Showing yourself with someone else certainly conveys the impression that you are socially skilled and competent, and comfortable in the company of others, but does it benefit you in other ways? 

In one study, Drew Walker and Edward Vul asked participants to rate the physical attractiveness of images of people’s faces either when alone or as part of a group, and found that people are judged as more attractive when they are viewed as part of a group than when alone (Walker & Vul, 2013). This is called the cheerleader effect and is explained by the fact that people tend to rate the average attractiveness level of a group of faces higher than they rate each face individually. In other words, there is an assimilation effect, with faces appearing within a group of faces being rated as closer to the average appraisal for the group as a whole.

A similar effect was noted by Rodway, Schepman, and Lambert (2013), who found that when participants were presented with images of an attractive face surrounded by average or unattractive faces, the attractive face was judged to be less attractive than when rated alone. However, when an unattractive face was presented with other unattractive faces, the unattractive face became more attractive than when rated alone. 

Therefore, the evidence seems to suggest that we might benefit from being pictured with others, as long as they are equally attractive or more attractive than us. If we are pictured with people less attractive than us, then we might be judged as being less attractive ourselves.

However, could it be the case that when we are viewed around other attractive people, we will be judged as less attractive by comparison? Will we be compared or contrasted with them, making us appear less attractive than if we are viewed alone?

This contrast effect works by making us seem more attractive when in the company of a less attractive person but viewed as less attractive when in the company of a more attractive person. Back in 1980, Kenrick and Gutierres performed a study where one group of males watched a TV show featuring attractive females while another group of males did not. Following this, each group of males was asked to rate the attractiveness level of female photographs that had been pre-judged as being of average attractiveness. The researchers found a contrast effect with the group who had watched the TV show rating the attractiveness level of the female photographs as lower compared to the control group who had not watched the show (Kenrick & Gutierres, 1980).

What does this tell us?

Whether or not we benefit from being in the company of others, appears to be dependent on two factors. First, the gender of the person with whom we are pictured and second whether we are male or female.

In contexts where two people of the same gender are seen together, then the evidence seems to suggest that the assimilation effect generally applies, with a person of average or low attractiveness being seen as more attractive when they are in the company of people more attractive, and less attractive when they are with others less attractive than themselves. 

When people of the opposite sex are viewed together, then the same assimilation rule applies for males, in that they are perceived as being more attractive when seen with attractive females. Indeed, some men use wing women services, (paying to surround themselves with attractive women) in an attempt to make them appear more attractive. However, attractiveness judgments of females do not change as a result of being seen in the company of other attractive males. What matters most for females is how they look. 

Variations to the above rules apply however when photographs of faces are presented sequentially, as might be the case on dating apps such as Tinder, where pictures of people are viewed, one following the other. In situations where people of the same sex are observed sequentially, a contrast effect applies, where we are judged as more attractive if our picture follows a picture less attractive than ourselves, and judged as less attractive if our picture follows one more attractive than us.

Quite obviously people’s judgments of our attractiveness in group photos might depend on numerous other factors such as how much more attractive or unattractive the people standing with us appear to be. If the contrast is too great, then the above effects may not apply. The effect might also depend on where within the photo we are positioned, at the side or nearer the center, etc. The research does suggest that surrounding ourselves with other people slightly more attractive than we are might benefit us in online dating, especially if we are male. 

References

Geiselman, R., Haight, N., & Kimata, L. (1984) ‘Context effects on the perceived physical attractiveness of faces’. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 20 (5) 409-424.

Kenrick, D., & Gutierres, S. (1980) ‘Contrast effects and judgments of physical attractiveness: When beauty becomes a social problem’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38 (1) 131-140.

Rodway, P., Schepman, A., & Lambert, J. (2013) ‘The influence of position and context on facial attractiveness’. Acta Psychologica, 144 (3) 522-529.

Walker, D., & Vul, E. (2013) ‘Hierarchical encoding makes individuals in a group seem more attractive’. Psychological Science, 25 (1) 230-235.