It’s a refrain we hear over and over in the dating world: It’s so hard to meet new people. And we totally get it. When you’re ready to put yourself out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. Do you ask friends to set you up? Try online dating? Hope to get lucky and meet someone out in the world the old fashioned way? All of those techniques can work, but there’s one thing that’s proven to help you stand out to potential suitors: Going out with a group.
According to a study published in Psychological Science, you can boost your perceived attractiveness by surrounding yourself with friends. When you’re with a group, being in a sea of faces will make yours appear more average—which might sound like a bad thing, but it’s actually good.
“Average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies,” explains scientist Drew Walker. “Perhaps it’s like Tolstoy’s families: Beautiful people are all alike, but every unattractive person is unattractive in their own way.”
Walker and his partner Edward Vul came to this conclusion after performing experiments with more than 130 undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego. They showed participants pictures of 100 people, and asked them to rate the attractiveness of the people in the photos. The faces were sometimes shown in solo portraits, and sometimes in group shots with two other people. The results? Both male and female subjects were considered more attractive when they were featured in group shots than when they were alone. Specifically, enough to move from the 49th percentile of attractiveness to the 51st.
Additionally, people with complimentary features get an even higher boost in perceived attractiveness when seen together. “If the average is more attractive because unattractive idiosyncrasies tend to be averaged out, then individuals with complimentary facial features—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 more similar features,” Walker and Vul explained further.
Does any of this sound familiar? The phenomenon has been referenced in pop culture before. In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris’s character Barney Stinson dubbed it “The Cheerleader Effect.” (His choice of words in the episode are a little harsh, but the phenomenon he describes is very real.)
“The Cheerleader Effect is when a group of women seems hot, but only as a group,” Barney explains to his friends after eyeing a group of girls at their local bar. “Also known as The Bridesmaid Paradox, Sorority Girl Syndrome, and for a brief window in the mid-90s, The Spice Girls Conspiracy.”
So what does this all mean for dating and meeting people? Try going out with a group! From the start, you’ll appear more attractive to potential matches. And while looks certainly aren’t everything, it doesn’t hurt to know that you’re being perceived as more physically attractive to someone—especially when things are new.
If you’re ready to get out there and meet someone new, get a group together. If your friends are dying to set you up, have them arrange a group hang. Better yet, arrange an outing where everybody brings somebody (who is single!) that the group has never met before. Or if you meet someone online with mutual friends, gather everyone together for a group date. You’ll have the built-in confidence boost of having a higher perceived attractiveness. On top of that, you’ll immediately feel more at ease, because you’ll be surrounded by friends to help keep things light and keep the conversation going.