Bias number 21 is known as the cheerleader effect. This is a cognitive bias that affects the way people perceive individuals when they are alone versus in a group.
How does the group association affect the perception of an individual? According to studies, people are rated more attractive in a group than they are as an individual when their photos are shown to test subjects. This bias occurs consistently in single-sex and mixed groups of different sizes.
In the study, test subjects were shown the same individual photos, grouped together in a single image as well as separate single photos, negating the idea that the attractiveness comes from a perception of social or emotional intelligence.
While it is not known exactly why these judgements are consistently made, psychologists believe the perception of individuals may be biased towards an average. As a result, unattractive traits that are more noticeable in an individual photo are cancelled out by the brain in a group. Another explanation suggests that the observers utilised selective attention, meaning they chose to focus their attention on more attractive members of the photo grouping. By association, all members of the group are considered equally attractive.
The cheerleader effect, being a newly identified bias, suffers from some inconsistencies in its conclusions. Studies conducted in Japan failed to show any significant results. This suggests that cultural biases may also be at play. There is certainly more work to be done to understand its effect on our perception of others.
As you read about the bias and its effects on perception, what do you discover? Consider how the cheerleader effect may be operating in your life for a moment.
The obvious place to begin is to consider a cheerleading team, the most famous being the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, who are recruited for both their looks and their skill. They are each beautiful in their own right. You might evaluate them and find certain cheerleaders more attractive than others according to your personal preferences.
But, put them together as a unit, out on the football field performing together, and as a unit, they become a force of nature.
Where else does this occur? Let’s move things away from people for a moment to consider art pieces. I live near a well-known glass blowing studio. Walking up the stairs to enter the gallery, I am always struck by the magnificence of the pieces. The studio itself appears alive with light and colour and beauty.
When I examine each piece in turn, there are definitely ones that I prefer over others. However, when I consider the pieces as a whole, they all look stunning, and the invitation to explore the studio is usually too much for me to resist!
In a work setting, consider the leadership team of a company. On his own, your CEO might look like a regular Joe. Put him together with his management team, however, and somehow he looks formidable, perhaps trustworthy, and certainly more attractive, whatever judgement you make of him as an individual.
Or visualise the image of yourself on your website. It’s a photo that hopefully shows you in a positive light. Put the same photo in a conference brochure alongside photos of several other speakers, and suddenly your photo exudes a new level of attractiveness, perhaps even for you.
What we are dealing with here is a case of image processing by the brain, which regards our connection with other people a more attractive proposition than flying solo. The brain is wired to create processing efficiencies. This is another example of where this is true.
So, what’s it got to do with you? The first thing to recognise is that you are more attractive to others when you are part of a group. Whether it’s a consortium of individuals or a fully-fledged team, your attractiveness ratings rise when people see you as part of something bigger than yourself.
You can use this to your advantage. Joining groups or associations where your photo will be published makes you a more attractive individual. If you’ve been humming and hawing about whether or not you should join a business community, consider that your membership may elevate your attractiveness in the minds of others.
In the world of business, we all want to come across as attractive in some way, and we want others to be attracted to us. It opens doors to business that might otherwise have remained shut.
And let’s face it. If we are all biased as a function of our image processing, why not make use of a bias to score a few points in the attractiveness stakes? If it helps you feel good and helps others feel good about you, then what’s the harm?
Attractiveness is no substitute for business substance, so don’t make the mistake of believing you can stand on this quality alone. However, if it provides the nudge that’s needed to help you fulfil on your mission, use it.
Understanding the way you think and the way others think gives you knowledge that you can use for everyone’s benefit. So, the next time you’re submitting an image for use in a public format, shake your pom-poms and thank the cheerleader effect for bringing your attractiveness to a whole new level of brilliance.