Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, but it also depends on what else that eye is looking at.

In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers showed that people's judgment on attractiveness varies based on who is near the subject and how good-looking they are in comparison. According to findings, a person is likelier to find someone attractive when that person is compared with another who is less attractive than when judged alone.

People have different ways of assessing attractiveness and researchers have found that context is key. Study author Nicholas Furl explained that appearance plays a big role in how one is judged as attractive, but measuring beauty is still a gray area.

"Until now, it's been understood that a person's level of attractiveness is generally steady ... However, this work demonstrates that the company we keep has an effect on how attractive we appear to others," said Furl.

For the study, participants were tasked to assess attractiveness in different people, rating pictures one by one. They were then asked to rate the same faces, this time placed alongside other people that have been generally perceived as undesirable.

When "distractor faces" were added to the mix, the researchers observed that original judgments of attractiveness from the first round of assessments changed. However, it's not as simple as subjects simply appearing more attractive when assessed side-by-side with the distractor faces.

According to Furl, participants changed their original assessments of attractiveness because the presence of distractor faces made them more critical of differences in appearance, making it appear they were more particular when judging attractiveness.

The researcher is also not surprised at their findings, pointing out that being judged in relation to those around you is pervasive. He says, however, that there are many ways by which people can decide to assess attractiveness, with using those in proximity as a gauge being just one. Furl is confident there will be more research on the subject of human interaction and is excited where their work will take the research team.

People will have varying opinions on the importance of attractiveness, but another study has shown that women who are attractive and well-groomed end up earning more compared with their counterparts who are average-looking.

Based on the research done by University of Chicago's Jaclyn Wong and University of California in Irvine's Andrew Penner, individuals who rated themselves as attractive earned 20 percent more compared with subjects who said they were of average attractiveness.

Interestingly, the study, published in the Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, showed that attractiveness in women had a lot to do with how well-groomed they are. In men, attractiveness is only about half of what they gain from grooming.

Photo: Mike Seyfang | Flickr

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