Limited evidence of hierarchical encoding in the cheerleader effect

Daniel J. Carragher, Nicole A. Thomas, O. Scott Gwinn, Mike E.R. Nicholls

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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“The cheerleader effect” refers to the increase in attractiveness that an individual face experiences when seen in a group of other faces. It has been proposed that the cheerleader effect occurs because (a) the visual system rapidly summarises a group of faces into an ensemble representation, (b) which is hypothesised to be highly attractive because of its average facial characteristics, and (c) observers remember individual faces to be more alike the ensemble representation than they were, due to hierarchical structure of visual working memory. Across three experiments, we investigated whether the cheerleader effect is consistent with hierarchical encoding, by asking observers to give attractiveness ratings to the same target faces shown in groups and alone. Consistent with hierarchical encoding, the largest attractiveness increases of 1.5–2.0% occurred when target faces were presented in groups of faces that could be mentally summarised to create an ensemble representation with average facial characteristics. Surprisingly, smaller cheerleader effects still occurred in conditions that were incompatible with hierarchical encoding (i.e., groups with non-human images). Together, these results offer only limited evidence for the role of hierarchical encoding in the cheerleader effect, suggesting that alternative mechanisms must be explored in future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9329 (2019)
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2019

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