Friday, May 30, 2014

A life strategy based on science

I’d be better looking if I hung out with cheerleaders.  So would you.

If I’d only known this back in my gangly, self-conscious adolescent days!  I would have been photo bombing the cheer squad all over campus.  There’s that crazy Carolyn again!  She’s so cute! 

Scientific studies have now confirmed that the ‘cheerleader effect’ is a real thing – if you hang with a gang of good-looking girls, you can pass.

Yes, the so-called ‘cheerleader effect’ is the phenomenon that people actually seem more attractive to others when they are in a group than when they are alone. 

I think it really means that most people aren’t paying attention to detail.

Consider this:  An experiment staged on “Brain Games” showed that young men wearing wigs, short skirts and carrying pompons not only blended in with real, female cheerleaders, some of the men were selected by test subjects as the most attractive in the bunch!

If those guys had been standing alone, they would have been pegged as frat boys in drag!

Add those findings to another study, published recently in Psychological Science by researchers Walker & Vul, which puts a fine point on it:  If you are beady-eyed or big-nosed, all you have to do is crowd together in a cluster of wide-eyed cuties with their turned up noses and voila!  In the eyes of your beholders, you become adorable too! 

Or, as Walker & Vul explained less delicately, “Unattractive idiosyncrasies tend to be averaged out.”  Harrumph!

Of course, W & V don’t mention how to get the handsome, beautiful and cool kids to accept your goofy-looking oddball self into their midst.  So.  There’s that.

And in another unintended consequence, if you do manage to sneak into the in-crowd, from that point forward you’re on your own to pull off any relationship that might stem from your deception. 

Keep moving is my advice.  Wear hats.  Never leave home without your band of camouflage friends.  Car pool. 

I see now that without realizing it, I applied the principles of the cheerleader effect when I was a teenager and wanted to belong.  I sang with my church choir which was made up of a pretty good-looking crew of kids.  Like a penguin during the Antarctic winter, I took refuge in the middle, hunched my shoulders and kept my head down.  I laughed when they laughed.  And I looked good in the group photos.

I even took it a step further – I let their voices compensate for mine.  I was a better singer because of them.  Fact is, sometimes, I was lip-synching.  Now and then the choir director would raise his arms in my direction and say, “More soprano!”  I would smile at him and open my mouth wider.  Man!  I could sing!  

We were a traveling choir.  In demand.  Sang in a four state circuit down through Oklahoma and Texas, east to New Orleans and back up to Little Rock on the way home.  I was right there in the middle of it, cheerleading all the way.

Then there’s this – according to a new study published in the journal PLoS One, Kleisner and Associates say that smiling faces are judged by observers to belong to smarter people that frowning faces.  Hmmm…

Couple that with the ‘halo effect,’ the idea that global evaluations about a person – she is smiling and therefore likeable – bleed over into judgments about their specific traits – she likeable and therefore intelligent, friendly, displays good judgment and so on.

I think I’m on to something here.

Up until now I thought it was clever to hang with the dummies.  You know, stand out as the smartest hammer in the bag.  But I’ve learned that strategy only served to average my unattractive idiosyncrasies in with those of the other mallets.  The lowest common denominator was not working in anyone’s favor.    

So in keeping with the latest scientific advances, I’ve updated my life strategy. 

I’ve cultivated a group of good-looking and intelligent friends.  While they weren’t paying attention, I worked my way into the center of the group.  I keep my head down.  I laugh when they laugh.  I organize the carpool.  I wear hats. I smile.

They don’t suspect a thing: