July 2013
Volume 13, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   July 2013
The Cheerleader Effect: Hierarchical Encoding of Individuals In Groups
Author Affiliations
  • Drew Walker
    University of California, San Diego
  • Edward Vul
    University of California, San Diego
Journal of Vision July 2013, Vol.13, 853. doi:https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.853
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      Drew Walker, Edward Vul; The Cheerleader Effect: Hierarchical Encoding of Individuals In Groups. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):853. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.853.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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We demonstrate that ensemble coding in the visual system works conjointly with other cognitive mechanisms to produce the "the cheerleader effect," the pop-culture notion that individuals are more attractive when they are in a group. We propose that this effect arises because (1) the visual system automatically computes ensemble representations of faces presented in groups (Haberman & Whitney, 2009), (2) averaged faces are perceived as attractive (Langlois & Roggman, 1990), and (3) individual items are drawn to the ensemble average (Brady & Alvarez, 2010). Together, these results suggest that individual faces in a group will be biased toward a group average, and that group average tends to be more attractive than the individual faces, on average. To test this, we found 100 images of groups of three females (experiment 1) and males (experiment 2) on the internet and cropped them to show the three individuals together, or the same three individuals alone. Participants rated the attractiveness of these 300 faces, once presented in a group, and once presented individually. Consistent with the "Cheerleader Effect," female and male faces were rated as more attractive when they were presented with other faces then when they were presented alone (Expt 1: t(24)= 2.53, p <.05; Expt 2: t(18) = 2.13, p <.05 ). We assessed the magnitude of this effect within individuals by assessing how many standard deviations higher a face is rated in a group than alone. In both experiments we found an effect size of about 1/20[sup]th[/sup] of a standard deviation (Expt 1: 5.59%, Expt 2: 5.56%). These findings indicate that automatic averaging of faces produces a summary representation that is more attractive than the faces from which it was derived, and that this representation biases the individual faces in the set to be perceived as more attractive.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013


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