Little AC, Caldwell CC, Jones BC & DeBruine LM (2014). Observer age and the social transmission of attractiveness in humans: Younger women are more influenced by the choices of popular others than older women. British Journal of Psychology, 109(3): 397-413. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12098

Being paired with an attractive partner increases perceptual judgements of attractiveness in humans. We tested experimentally for prestige bias, whereby individuals follow the choices of prestigious others. Women rated the attractiveness of photographs of target males which were paired with either popular or less popular model female partners. We found that pairing a photo of a man with a woman presented as his partner positively influenced the attractiveness of the man when the woman was presented as more popular (Experiment 1). Further, this effect was stronger in younger participants compared to older participants (Experiment 1). Reversing the target and model such that women were asked to rate women paired with popular and less popular men revealed no effect of model popularity and this effect was unrelated to participant age (Experiment 2). An additional experiment confirmed that participant age and not stimulus age primarily influenced the tendency to follow others' preferences in Experiment 1 (Experiment 3). We also confirmed that our manipulations of popularity lead to variation in rated prestige (Experiment 4). These results suggest a sophisticated model-based bias in social learning whereby individuals are most influenced by the choices of those who have high popularity/prestige. Furthermore, older individuals moderate their use of such social information and so this form of social learning appears strongest in younger women.

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