Facial Attractiveness May Be Based on How Good Looking Your Neighbors Are: Study

facial attractiveness

Facial attractiveness is judged by who we are with and how good looking those other people are in comparison to ourselves. The recent study out of the University of London found that a person’s perceived attractiveness ranks higher if they are near others who are deemed less attractive compared to when alone. Although a person’s level of attractiveness has often been perceived as fixed, the new findings suggest otherwise.

Psychology professor and study author Dr. Nicholas Furl explained, “Rightly or wrongly, the way people look has a profound impact on the way others perceive them. We live in a society obsessed with beauty and attractiveness, but how we measure and understand this concept is still a grey area.”

The study reveals that attractiveness is more fluid than we have previously believed, and an average face alone may be considered more attractive if it is surrounded by unattractive faces.

Study participants were asked to judge faces based on attractiveness individually and later asked to asses the same faces when placed beside another faced deemed unattractive. The researchers found that the rating of attractiveness increased when the image of the face was side-by-side to an undesirable face.

Participants were then shown two attractive faces along with an unattractive one, which made the participants more critical of the two attractive faces. Furl explained, “The presence of a less attractive face does not just increase the attractiveness of a single person, but in a crowd could actually make us even more choosey! We found that the presence of a ‘distractor’ face makes differences between attractive people more obvious and that observers start to pull apart these differences, making them even more particular in their judgement.”

Dr. Furl referenced the way attractiveness is often revealed in movies where a character will seek a less attractive buddy in order to boost their own attractiveness. He pointed out the 2015 movie The Duff (designated ugly fat friend) as an example. Furl suggested that there will be much further research into attractiveness and how we decide who we are attracted to in order to better explain social interaction.


“Standing out in a crowd; attractiveness judged on who we are with,” Royal Holloway University of London, https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/2016-articles/standingoutinacrowd.aspx, last accessed September 30, 2016.

Furl, N., “Facial-attractiveness choices are predicted by divisive normalization,” Psychological Science, http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/08/26/0956797616661523, last accessed September 30, 2016.

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