September 9, 2010

Are People Attracted To Good Dancers?


maypole-dancers.jpg

Chris Rock: a father's only responsibility is to keep his daughter off the pole




"Study: Flamboyant male dancing attracts women best"

LONDON - John Travolta was onto something. Women are most attracted to male dancers who have big, flamboyant moves similar to the actor's trademark style, British scientists say in a new study.
Awesome, another "front page" science article that misses the point.

The researchers filmed some men dancing, and then CGI'd them into silhouette avatars which they forced sober women to watch.


dancing avatar.jpg



"There are lots of cues females use when choosing a mate, like a peacock puffing out its tail," [some evolutionary behaviorist guy] said. "Dancing for humans could signal whether a male is fit because it requires the expenditure of a lot of energy."

It could also signal you have to pee.  On the one hand, the study itself gets it wrong; and on the other hand, the reporting gets it even more wrong.   Two wrongs make a post.

II.

The actual study found that:

According to the women, the best dancers were those who had a wide range of dance moves and focused on the head, neck and torso [and not arm and leg movements]

Somehow this got translated to "women are attracted to good dancers" but it only says they liked that kind of dancing, it did not say the women thought those men were more attractive, especially since they weren't men but CGI humanicons with no visible external genitalia such as tattoos or Nautica T-shirts.  Extending "I like his dancing" to "he's hot" is the sexual equivalent of extending "he has good penmanship" to "he writes like Balzac.  I'm so looking him up on Facebook."

And you can't bring up examples like the professionals at Dancing With The Stars because they possess what's called a "confounding variable," namely that they are all extremely attractive  CGI humanicons with prominently displayed external genitalia that I have never DVR-paused to get a good look at, even as I have never fast-forwarded through their ridiculous interpretations of the cha-cha to get to Brooke Burke.


Of course women will like good dancing more than bad dancing, but I am not sure that women are attracted to better dancers-- which is the only reason evolutionary psychologists would be interested in the question.  If it doesn't lead to penetration, they don't want to hear about it.  But here,  "more attractive as a mate" does not logically follow from "better dancer."    A Craig Ferguson joke: "A new study reports that women are attracted to better dancers.  The ironic thing is that they're all gay."


(Thanks DL for the vid)




III.

But the more serious problem with the study this:


He and his colleagues think dance is an honest signal to women of the man's strength and health, just as it is in crabs and hummingbirds... It makes sense that women would care about men's ability to dance, says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "For millions of years, a man with well-coordinated movements of the head, neck, and trunk [which he used when throwing weapons] probably signaled his ability to provide"

This is completely crazy.  She could have used that same explanation if flailing arm movements were what was more attractive, she just has to replace "head neck and trunk" with any body part that was preferred and she can win tenure.   I also don't know if she's aware that the words "man" and "millions" and "throwing weapons" and "well-coordinated"have no business being in the same sentence, unless that sentence is the one I just wrote.

Consider also that this is dancing today, in western Earth.  If this is supposed to be a generalizable observation about intraspecies attractiveness, how would we rate the hotness of the dances people did in the middle ages, the ones with the ribbons attached to poles?  Wasn't Maypole dancing itself derived from a pagan fertility dance whose purpose was to get you knocked up?

If this study is valid at all, then it is only valid only for modern, culturally created attractiveness.  It is identical to saying "women prefer men with body hair because it signals virility."  When was this?  The only people who find 1970s pornstars attractive are 1960s pornstars, and communists, which are the same thing.

Maybe somebody can explain to me how evolutionary psychology can make predictions on a non-evolutionary time scale without resorting to genes, which it can't do anyway because it doesn't know of any.

Besides:  natural selection stopped being applicable to human beings the moment we allowed other people to tell us what is attractive to us.

--

Is the hourglass figure the ideal?

---

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych

 











Comments

Alone was the evolutionary ... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 5:46 PM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Alone was the evolutionary psychology peer reviewer who gave the go-ahead to the British journal to print this important stuff pronto.

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Alone thank you so much for... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 6:01 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Alone thank you so much for another fine post demonstrating the idiocy of that popular anti-science called "evolutionary psychology".

Why do you people need to fabricate some ridiculous narrative laced with science words to justify your sketchy behavior? Can't you just blame your parents or something?

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There is a reason science i... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 6:46 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Dave: | Reply

There is a reason science is public and studies are subject to scrutiny: so we can point out the study's flaws and repeat the experiments in more airtight ways that will give us better answers. Granted, we are reading a Yahoo! article's interpretation of a study and not the actual study itself.

Here are two lines from the article that are important:

"He said their research was likely subjective and different cultures would have different measures for what constitutes good dancing."

"In humans, I suspect it is much more complicated and may come down to more than whether or not a man is a good dancer."

These two statements basically negate any of the claims you think he is making, because they in essence say: "this is not species-wide," and "dancing doesn't matter all that much anyway."

There are, of course, a million possible confounding variables, if we look at the study as causation. But, this study cannot prove causation, it can only state that there is a correlation between perceived sexual attractiveness and certain dance moves in THIS culture. We don't need science to tell us that, and Yahoo! never says what the correlation coefficient was--it could be an incredibly loose correlation, but the way this article is worded makes you think it is proven fact.

As with all science, this theory will need to be scrutinized and the experiments refined and repeated before we actually accept it as viable. That takes time, so don't get your panties in a bunch for a few years. One Yahoo! translation of a brand-new theory does not invalidate the findings of an entire body of scientific work.

The real problem is that most people don't understand how science works, and so groups like Yahoo! write articles about things we don't know much about yet, but claim that "because it is science, it is absolute fact." Science takes time to be refined, and people need to hold off on putting too much faith into theories before they have been subject to significant scrutiny.

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Left wing creationists will... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 6:55 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by AnonyMouse: | Reply

Left wing creationists will always whine about evo-psych because it rips their worldview up the middle. But then liberals never let a few facts get in their way.

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@AnonyMouse: If you were ju... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 10:35 PM | Posted, in reply to AnonyMouse's comment, by Aron: | Reply

@AnonyMouse: If you were just going to troll you could have pointed out that Alone's just bitter at being a poor dancer...

Quantifying "coordination" seems like a tall order, but MoCap seems like a poor way of exposing the women to the dancing. I'm not sure how the researchers could filter out the confidence that would would be portrayed by posture and other traits that would still be conveyed by the CG dancers. "Coordination" may be what they called their treatments, but in reality I don't see how the researchers could at all be confident in isolating the trait they think they did.

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"Here are two lines from... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 3:02 AM | Posted, in reply to Dave's comment, by Iris: | Reply

"Here are two lines from the article that are important:
...
"In humans, I suspect it is much more complicated and may come down to more than whether or not a man is a good dancer.""

No shit! Srsly, why did he bother with a study that even he thought was pointless? I don't know... Probably because he didn't think it was pointless and the purpose of those comments were to validate the study.

"...it can only state that there is a correlation between perceived sexual attractiveness and certain dance moves in THIS culture."
As said, the only possible conclusion is that women in this study preferred some CGI dance moves over others. It doesn't state whether or not certain dance moves will help you get laid.

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First, "The only people who... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 4:47 AM | Posted by Ben: | Reply

First, "The only people who find 1970s pornstars attractive are 1960s pornstars, and communists, which are the same thing." just about gave me a hernia. Ha! Joseph McCarthy makes so much more sense now.

Second, watching a CGI figure is to couples' dancing what rock-scissors-paper is to a knife fight. In my experience, women are far more interested in the guy's ability to interact (but not too much) than in his ability to churn the butter. A CGI figure, gyrating to itself on a screen, cannot be creepy, staring at his buddy's partner, feelin' her groove, or shyly avoiding her gaze. The research design is equivalent to asking which Lego-man is the hottest. Incidentally, in a lot of Travolta's dance scenes in SNF - especially in the disco - he seems to be going out of his way to avoid any interaction with anybody, because it would obstruct his ability to pose, which makes it more like Riverdance or catwalk models: perhaps impressive but far from erotic.

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Dave, you're scarily close ... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 10:34 AM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Dave, you're scarily close to Alone in ability to analyze that crap.

Did you notice that this "report" was not written by anyone at Yahoo!, but by an Associated Press "medical writer"? The AP has as much credibility reporting medical topics as about political topics.

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Dave quoted from the origin... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 10:36 AM | Posted, in reply to Dave's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Dave quoted from the original article:

"He said their research was likely subjective and different cultures would have different measures for what constitutes good dancing."

"In humans, I suspect it is much more complicated and may come down to more than whether or not a man is a good dancer."

and goes on to say that this "negate any of the claims you think he is making, because they in essence say: "this is not species-wide," and "dancing doesn't matter all that much anyway."

That's not true. They can't make a series of claims that they say apply to humans across time, but then sneak out of it by saying "that's not what we meant."

This post is in along the lines of "media reports so we believe" series that Alone often returns to. I agree entirely with the rest of your point about how science is conducted, but what was the point of doing this study in the first place?

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These were not professional... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 10:48 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

These were not professional dancers doing two different kinds of good dances. If they got good dancers and bad dancers to do the same exact dance moves, wouldn't we be able to tell? So there must be something more to it than what general body parts they move, which further undermines the study's conclusions that body movements signal some kind of health message.

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you suck... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 4:27 PM | Posted, in reply to AnonyMouse's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

you suck

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I like the quietly confiden... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 4:33 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I like the quietly confident type who is honest, funny, and shows respect for all. He will always be a good dancer -to me at least.

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I wonder if the real reason... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 5:03 PM | Posted by Last On The Dance Card: | Reply

I wonder if the real reason this study was done was for no other reason than to show off the technology, something like, "hey, we're evolutionary psychologists but we use high tech gadgets in our research, so it must be science."

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I find it interesting that ... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2010 8:56 PM | Posted by All Over: | Reply

I find it interesting that this is what people want to study at all. The world is falling apart all around us-AND if the scientists are right about global worming-dancing, cancer being cured, who thinks who is a good match, narcissism, none of it matters. The next ten years-it will get worse until it is "The Road". I'll hope not to be canabalized by humans or walk out into the night to die.
I guess we could dance to amuse ourselves.

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Like your takedowns of some... (Below threshold)

September 11, 2010 6:22 PM | Posted by Escapist: | Reply

Like your takedowns of some evopsych tropes and fakery in articles and such - there's a whole sector of the blogosphere which views such things as gospel. I’ve recently started reading your posts and find them very interesting – an upcoming post of mine has an excerpt/theme from one of your observations (regarding fooling others versus fooling ourselves, from the "when was the last time you got your ass kicked" post). My blog is libertarian-conservative on some topics (e.g. economics) but socially-moderate/liberal and has some unusual perspectives. You may find it interesting, particularly the Solutions category, e.g. the Merchandise series and Buying Ourselves Back (alternately, perhaps I'm a narcissist?). Would you like to do the mutual link thing? Pardon the plug (am relatively new to blogland)

Here’s the URL:
http://escapistart.wordpress.com

I have a MRA-PUA parody alter ego which you and your readers might like as well (particularly see the "Faciliating Sexytime" and "Alpha Dominant Reading Hour" posts):

http://sexypterodactyl.wordpress.com

Best,
Escapist

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There's also the cause and ... (Below threshold)

September 17, 2010 12:35 PM | Posted by figleaf: | Reply

There's also the cause and effect issue: at least from a human perspective all other apes can neither dance well nor throw spears. Somewhere along the line humans developed the muscles and nerves to do both. Throughout that period, including the period before we could either dance or throw, male humans were nevertheless by-definition attractive to female humans -- or else there wouldn't be humans today. So... quick question: which do you think came first? Did men "evolve" dancing to demonstrate pre-existing spear-throwing prowess, or did men evolve coordination to throw spears because women contemporary to them thought men who can dance are hot?

Another sort of obvious kink in the hypothesis: spear hunting, let alone spear *making* is sufficiently complex that it would be hard to pass down without at least modestly sophisticated social communication skills. Which suggests that rather than rely on weirdly indirect signaling based on dance moves, it's likely that *very* early on women could tell if men could throw well by... watching them throw well!

Since the latter is far more direct than the former, and since it would therefore require far less complex selective-pressure (I'd say exponentially less) to evolve direct assessment of throwing skill, over far less time (again I'd say exponentially less) than the way more indirect assessment of dancing as a proxy for throwing, Occam's razor says it would have to be throwing every time.

That doesn't mean there's no instinct-level preference for dancing. But Ronald Fisher's null hypothesis theory reminds us that selection on sexual display can evolve out of completely arbitrary mate preference. (See Alex Basolo's research on female for long tail fins in male swordtail fish... and the equally strong female preference for long tails in closely-related but tail-fin-less platys. Basolo demonstrated the pre-existing female preference by attaching prosthetic tail fins to platy males. Their common ancestor of both species also have no tail fins.)

So it could just be that to whatever extent contemporary women instinctively prefer men who can dance well (however one chooses to define that) they could prefer it for no good reason at all. With the result that the only thing males are selectively pressured to signal by their ability to dance is... their ability to dance better than the guy next to them.

Oh well, since very few pop Ev Psychs bother to study actual genetics (or biology... or psychology... or science!) it's not surprising they wouldn't have heard of Fisher's work. Which was all full of math and stuff anyway.

figleaf

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so good .Thanks for the inf... (Below threshold)

October 9, 2010 4:55 AM | Posted by iPhone Cases: | Reply

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Zombified, sorry but I woul... (Below threshold)

February 8, 2013 8:31 PM | Posted by Serge: | Reply

Zombified, sorry but I would agree with the study. Regardless of some peoples' (wrong) opinions about evolutionary psychology, it's simple. It's pretty clear to me that mates choose each other for not only physical characteristics, but also there usefulness and abilities to do "stuff".
Whether that stuff is useful or not isn't important. On the grand scheme of things, my ability to play guitar has zero survival merit, but still girls love it. Although you could conceivably connect dancing ability to survivability when killing mastodons, I think it's unnecessary. It's more important to understand that we are attracted to people who do things well, as a society and for mating.
Also, it's important to note that nearly every mating species on the planet performs a fitness test for potential mate. Why would we be any different?

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Yes, Men of the World, take... (Below threshold)

July 30, 2013 11:25 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

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