The young adult novel-turned-movie “The Duff” may have been a mere comedy about the life of a teenager who discovered she was the “designated ugly fat friend,” but the ugly friend effect may actually be a real phenomenon happening to more people than the book and film’s protagonist Bianca. A new study recently proved that people are more likely to consider others more or less attractive depending on how the person standing next to them looks.
Dr. Nicholas Furl of London’s University of Royal Holloway conducted the study, which was published in Psychological Science, and said in a statement Friday that people who were photographed next to an “ugly friend” were perceived to be more attractive to onlookers. During the study, 40 participants were asked to rate pictures of different faces for attractiveness in two different instances. In the first round, participants rated the attractiveness of individuals standing alone. In the second round, contributors were asked to assess the same faces while they were placed alongside images of less desirable people. The “distractor faces,” as Furl coined them, resulted in participants finding the faces from the first round considerably more attractive in the second round.
“Until now, it’s been understood that a person’s level of attractiveness is generally steady. If you saw a picture of George Clooney today, you would rate him as good-looking as you would tomorrow. However, this work demonstrates that the company we keep has an effect on how attractive we appear to others,” Furl said.
There have been several studies on the perception of physical attraction between humans. Not only has research shown that desirable physical characteristics lead to better chances of friendship and likeability, they also suggest people with good looks are more likely to be hired faster and have a better shot at negotiating higher salaries compared to their not-so-pretty co-workers, Royal Holloway professor Daniel S. Hamermesh suggested in his 2011 book, "Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful."
Feeling less than pretty? Don't take it too hard. Bad looks are ultimately not “a crucial disadvantage. . . whose burden should be so overwhelming as to crush our spirit,” Hamermesh wrote.