Anyone who’s watched “How I Met Your Mother” knows that Barney Stinson has lots of theories—particularly about women. In one episode, for example, Barney describes the “cheerleader effect”: when average-looking women appear more attractive as a group. Turns out, he may be onto something: People do indeed come off as more attractive when they’re part of a group than they do alone, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.
For this study—which was actually inspired by Barney’s “cheerleader effect” theory—researchers from the University of California, San Diego, asked 139 undergraduate students (male and female) to look at 100 photos and judge the attractiveness of people pictured in groups or by themselves. And sure enough, Barney was right: Participants believed that people in group shots were more attractive than those photographed alone.
Study authors hypothesize that, when you’re in a crowd, it’s harder to pick up on any given person’s individual features—including those that are not-as-hot.
That may sound reasonable—if slightly offensive—but Barney’s explanation is far easier to understand (not to mention more hilarious):