Home > Uncategorized > Rule #1: Always Travel in a Pack, Rule #2: Pick the Friends You Go Out with Wisely

Rule #1: Always Travel in a Pack, Rule #2: Pick the Friends You Go Out with Wisely



Have you ever been out with friends when a squad of girls walks in, and, although you hate to admit it, they look so good that they catch everyone in the room’s eye? Fortunately, as jealous as they might make you, and as much as you might want to look like them, there is a cognitive bias tricking your brain into making them seem more attractive. If you have had a similar experience to this one, you, my friend, have been fooled by a common cognitive bias known as The Cheerleader Effect.



According to Barney…


Psychologists define this trickery, also known as the Group Attractiveness Effect, as a cognitive bias that makes a group of individuals seem more attractive than they actually are. You might recall a sceneof “How I Met Your Mother”, where Barney explains The Cheerleader Effect to his friends in a bar as “when a group of women seems hot but only as a group”. He also refers to it as the bridesmaid paradox, sorority syndrome, and the Spice Girls conspiracy. So yes, Barney gives us a good idea of what the Cheerleader Effect is on the surface, and why that squad of girls walking in seems more attractive than they really are, but he leaves curious viewers like me and you wondering what kind of evidence there is to support this theory and what is going on inside our brains to cause it.

He’s Right… 

In a study published in 2018 psychologists compared the attractiveness ratings of groups to those of the individual group members. Would the girl you see walk into a bar with 5 of her friends catch your eye as quickly and intensely if she was walking in alone? According to Osch, Blanken, Meijs, and Wolferen, the answer is no.


But WHY…? 

According to the same study, our false perceptions of the attractiveness of groups can be blamed on our brains’ tendency to selectively pay attention to only some of the stimuli around us. Our cognitive processes aren’t powerful enough to pay attention to all of the stimuli constantly occurring around us or in a certain moment. So, when this group of girls walks into the bar we selectively attend to only one or few of their faces. The way the attended-to faces are chosen is that they are deemed most important by our cognitive processes. During selective attention, the most important or prevalent stimuli are attended to and the less important are blurred into the background. Evidently, our brains deem attractiveness as an important thing to attend to and we attend to the most attractive people in a group. This process can be compared to the cocktail party effect which is a commonly known phenomenon of auditory selective attention. It explains the way we can filter out several sounds going on at a cocktail party and only pay attention to the ones we consider important, like hearing our name. This process of selective auditory attention helps to explain the selective visual attention process taking place when we experience the cheerleader effect.


SO if you are not sure what to take away from all of this information, here is some help. If you want to maximize your attractiveness travel with your squad. Like Barney said, The Cheerleader Effect is dangerous. Not in a way that it can put you at serious risk of anything, because let’s check ourselves and realize we’re only talking about attractiveness in this case, but dangerous in the sense that your cognitive processes can make you think you are seeing something much different in a group of people than what is actually there. The episode of “How I Met Your Mother” backs this up when they group of girls is zoomed in on and Barney and his friends see what they all really look like up close and individually. On the flip side, the next time you see a group of people who you think are all drop dead gorgeous, take a closer look at their individual faces. You might be surprised at how much your brain was able to trick you.


Carragher, D. J., Lawrence, B. J., Thomas, N. A., & Nicholls, M. E. (2018). Visuospatial asymmetries do not modulate the cheerleader effect. Visuospatial Asymmetries Do Not Modulate the Cheerleader Effect. Retrieved April 5, 2018, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-20784-5.

Ojiro, Y., Gobara, A., Nam, G., Saski, K., Kishimoto, R., Yamada, Y., & Miura, K. (2015). Two replications of “Hierarchical encoding makes individuals in a group seem more attractive. 11(2). doi:https://www.tqmp.org/ReplicationStudies/vol11-2/r008/r008.pdf

Osch, Y. V., Blanken, I., Meijs, M. H., & Wolferen, J. V. (2015). A Group’s Physical Attractiveness Is Greater Than the Average Attractiveness of Its Members. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,41(4), 559-574. doi:10.1177/0146167215572799





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  1. May 6th, 2018 at 17:54 | #1

    This is a really great post! I loved the connection to How I Met Your Mother and learned a lot as well. After reading this post, I wonder is top-down processing has something to do with which faces we attend to within a group. Do prior experiences affect how we view each individual face based on our perception of that face? And if so, how does this affect how we view the group as a whole?
    It is interesting to note that the attentional capacity of the brain is the function behind the Cheerleader Effect. The fact that attentional resources are numbered and can only be allocated to different stimuli sparingly seems to be an accurate reasoning for how we can not attend to the faces of each individual all at once when they are among a larger group. I also wonder if cognitive biases in face recognition could also affect how we judge the overall attractiveness of a group – such as the other race effect. This is a great post and it can be connected to many other cognitive biases.

  2. May 14th, 2018 at 08:56 | #2

    I also really enjoyed this post and the connection to How I Met your Mother. This connection made this bias very relevant and made me think about how this impacts our everyday lives. I think this would be very interesting to connect to attentional control and how once this squad of girls enter the room peoples focus shifts to the group. We see this shift in attention with the cocktail party effect and how the failure to inhibit another outside stimuli impacts attentional control. It would be interesting to do a study to see if the size of the group had any impact on how many peoples attention it shifts and if the gender of the group made any difference. I also wonder how the environment plays a role in the attentional shift as well as the attractiveness ratings of the group. It would be interesting to see how facial recognition connects to this as well and if those who’s attention sifted as a result of the cheerleader effect if they wold recognize the individuals alone later.

  3. eemell20
    May 15th, 2018 at 21:01 | #3

    I really like the angle you took at the Cheerleader Effect. I thought the video was funny, and this cognitive bias is really relatable to people in our generation. It is interesting to realize how unaware we are that such bias’ are occurring without our knowing. Our brain is such a complex thing, and it is amazing how we can miss things like true attractiveness of a person. Our attentional resources that can be allocated, and it is crazy how looking at a couple faces is something we cannot handle doing accurately. People usually travel in packs and this is something we see a lot on campus; whether it is in the dining hall or at another school event, people just do not want t be alone.

  4. May 16th, 2018 at 10:05 | #4

    I really like how you used the How I Met Your Mother clip as a framework for you blog post. I found the clip to be the perfect combination of informative and funny and think you did a great job connecting the clip to your topic throughout the entire post. The post made me think about if the cheerleader effect would differ if people were shown an image of the group as opposed to seeing the group in real life. These ideas relate a bit to the concepts of face recognition versus picture recognition. I know that face recognition is recognizing the same individual in different situations whereas picture recognition is recognizing the same image of an individual. I would think that the cheerleader effect could be more robust when participants see the group in person because they would be less able to focus on individual faces (without seeming too creepy, that is) and therefore would be less able to accurately asses the attractiveness of the person.

  5. May 18th, 2018 at 10:35 | #5

    This is a really interesting post! I had never heard of this effect, but I can see how it relates to other concepts in attention. As illustrated in the Monkey Business illusion, we often miss a lot even when we’re trying to attend to everything in front of us. In this case, it’s easy to assume that we’re attending to all of the information in our environment, but we’re really missing a significant amount.

  6. May 18th, 2018 at 21:31 | #6

    I liked this post a lot. It was interesting and funny and the way you structured your paragraphs it was easy to follow for me to what you were saying. It is always interesting to me how we can be followed over and over again by our own perception. We see something clearly but sometimes we perceive it so different to what it actually is. ‘The Cheerleader Effect’ sounds like it is something that occurs to girls much more than to boys. But thinking about it, I actually believe that this happens to guys more than girls. Correct me if I am wrong and I definitely don’t want to sound offensive towards any gender. But with my four brothers I have experienced so often, that they would make a statement towards how something seems to the outside, because they made a quick judgement and don’t really care for the effects of it. But than I would remind them of all the little things that mostly critical girls tend to recognize about somebody else and they suddenly look at me with a completely new mind… Can boys be fooled easier than girls?

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