Neil Patrick Harris' character Barney Stinson, on "How I Met Your Mother," called it "The Cheerleader Effect": the effect of looking better when standing with a group of extremely hot friends.
New information from a University of California study, led by researchers Drew Walker and Edward Vul, recently confirmed that our brains average out the faces in a group, making everyone appear more attractive.
Obviously, cheerleaders are very attractive on their own, but in a group, their attractiveness quotient rises. (So much for the old theory that super good looking people should be around not-so-good-looking people to appear more attractive.)
This Cheerleader Effect is a visual illusion that proves what we see isn't always a direct reflection of what's right in front of us.
Whenever we look at a set of objects, like a group of people, our visual system (without us being conscious of it) gathers general information about the entire set, including average size of group members, their average location, and even the average expression on their faces. We tend to view individual members as being more like the group than they actually are.
If you're with a very attractive group, your facial flaws or unique characteristics average out in a group of faces, and you're seen as less-flawed. As our brains are computing that information, we come up with an average, and people of all cultures generally find average faces attractive.
Walker explained: "Average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies." In other words, to look even hotter, hang out with friends who have the opposite facial characteristics than you.
Walker and Vul went on to clarify: "One person with narrow eyes and one person with wide eyes, for example, would enjoy a greater boost in perceived attractiveness when seen together, as compared to groups comprised of individuals who have similar features."
So there you have it. Being in a group can help your perceived attractiveness. But once you've distanced yourself from the pack, you're on your own as far as holding up your hotness goes.