By Emily May Webber, Lifestyle Editor
How long do you spend getting ready for a night out? Living in a house of girls, I know that the time spent in front of the mirror perfecting your eyeliner and making sure your tights aren’t laddered results in a chaos of hair brushes and foundation scattered across the room. But, what if you were told that the company you keep is the secret to looking your best?
Dr Nicholas Furl of Royal Holloway’s Department of Psychology has released a study that reveals in a group of people, the attractiveness of one person depends on how physically appealing the others in the crowd are. Up until now, it has been believed that someone like Zac Efron has a fixed level of attractiveness. However, put alongside Boris Johnson, it is fair to say, that the appeal of Zac would soar. Therefore, depending how undesirable the distractor face is, others will appear more attractive.
The study was carried out using 18-25 year old participants. They were then asked to rate a group of faces depending on desirability. The two faces that they found most attractive, and the one they found least appealing, were then placed alongside each other, and the participant was asked again to rate how attractive they were.
Dr Furl gave me an insight into how our brain assesses someone this way, and why up until now, measuring the way we admire someone has been left a ‘grey area’. He said, ‘A lot of people have looked at the kind of facial features that people find attractive, that’s been looked at for hundreds of years really. Everyone knows about the golden ratios and these are things that often people agree on. I think that what I was trying to do differently is to try and show that people’s attractiveness can change under different circumstances. Depending on the other faces around, your brain re – calibrates to the other faces it sees’.
Living in a society dominated by appearances, apps such as Tinder now influence the world of dating. We are forced to judge someone within a few seconds of them popping up on our screen, and ultimately discard someone solely because of their profile picture. However, when swiping on Tinder, the participant is judging a face in isolation from a crowd of people, and so it contrasts from the display of images the subjects in the study were posed with. Dr Furl said, ‘When you make decisions, you have to grab things when they are available. Its like if you should buy or sell stock when the price is right. Dating is a bit like that. When you look through sequences of images on something like Tinder, you have to decide whether to accept or decline it there and then, as you don’t know whether something better will come up in the future. You have to think, is this someone I will invest in now, and will pay out, or should I wait and invest later. It’s a little bit like a gamble actually’.
The study found that when the two faces that the participant found most appealing were placed alongside the least desirable person, the subject was more ‘choosey’ over who they now found to be the most attractive. Dr Furl explained, ‘We found that the presence of a ‘distractor’ face makes differences between attractive people more obvious.’ Consequently, when adding these ‘distractors’ the other faces appeared more desirable in comparison to the first sequence of rating.
If asked whether we judge on appearance, most people would shy away from admitting that we make a preconceived perception of someone’s character based on a glimpse of their face. Dr Furl said, ‘It’s obvious that attractiveness affects every decision that both men and women make, even when it’s not about dating. It contaminates everything that people do. It’s intertwined. People will make judgments on peoples personalities, just based on how they look, not how the act. They are really wrapped together’.
The way we assess a person is undoubtedly shadowed by whom they are surrounded with, and what the individual deems to be attractive. Despite the unfair reality that to one person you are the ‘distractor’, it is clear that the decision lies with the individual, and luckily for us there is no set rule for beauty.
Emily May Webber, Lifestyle Editor
This article was published in our October 2016 issue.