There's a reason why we were all dying to be friends with the cool kids in high school: Who you hang out with can influence other's perception of you, according to a recent study from the University of New South Wales in Australia. Turns out, something like physical attractiveness and social status can vary depending on the people next to you.

Despite advancements in science, technology, and self-awareness, humans are still ruled by their basic instincts. Perhaps the strongest one is our sexuality and need to mate. Humans tend to choose sexual partners based on certain preferred traits, including the aforementioned physical attractiveness and social status. For example, the reason many men prefer youth and fertility in women, and women dominance and masculinity, is for evolutionary reasons; these traits a signal stronger ability to produce offspring and provide for a family. However, the recent study finds these traits are not set in stone and can be adjusted based on certain external factors.

Researchers had 2,044 volunteers look at male and female models in images where they were pictured by themselves with members of the same sex, or with members of the opposite sex. The volunteers were then asked to rate their perceptions of models' physical attractiveness and social status based on their assumed salary.

After a series of experiments, a number of patterns began to take shape. Males tended to receive higher ratings of attractiveness when they were pictured alongside females than when they were alone or with other males. One explanation for this, as posed by the researchers, was that males in the company of other females were perceived by both genders as being less threatening. On the other hand, women presented alongside other women were rated as less attractive by both genders.

As for social status, men who were photographed alongside other men were given the highest rating for perceived earnings in comparison to images of him alone or with a woman. On the contrary, a female model's perceived earnings were lowest when she was photographed alongside a man and highest when she was presented alone in a image. In addition, in co-ed images, the social status of females seemed to be restricted by the rated status of the male.

It was clear that social context altered how the models were perceived in these experiments, with findings hinting toward a deeper, more complex part of human nature. For example, even in the context of a social experiment, volunteers seemed unwilling to imagine women earning more money than the men with whom they are seen with — a finding that may hint towards one of the root causes of economic inequality between men and women. The team hopes that their findings will add to the current body of research on modern day gender gaps, and help to alleviate the problem.

Source: Gouda-Vossos A, Dixson BJ, Brooks RC. Sexual Conflict and Gender Gap Effects: Associations between Social Context and Sex on Rated Attractiveness and Economic Status. Plos One. 2016.