Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cheerleaders Make Fools of Our First Impressions

Credit: MN National Guard

Credit: MN National Guard

By Daniel Carragher

The “cheerleader effect” ­– the observation that people appear more attractive when they are in a group – reveals some quirks about how the brain processes complicated visual information.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Since our earliest days, we have been taught never to judge a book by its cover. Despite this timeless warning, we are all quick to judge others based upon their facial appearance. But this doesn’t make us terrible people. Rather, these trait judgments occur automatically.

The brain responds to the attractiveness of a face regardless of whether we are supposed to make attractiveness judgments or not. Of the many trait judgments that we make during first impressions, attractiveness is the only trait that is accurately shown in the face.

In contrast to the conventional wisdom that attractiveness is an extremely subjective judgment, there is actually a compelling case to be made that there are universal standards of facial attractiveness. Males and females make very similar attractiveness judgments, as do people from other countries and cultures. Furthermore, months-old infants spend longer gazing at attractive than unattractive faces, and attractiveness judgments made by children are very similar to those made by adults. While any two people might disagree about the attractiveness of a face, in general people show very high levels of agreement about facial attractiveness. Why do we all find the same faces attractive?

The similarities in judgments of attractiveness around the globe suggests that there might be an evolutionary basis for attractive...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.