September 9, 2010

Are People Attracted To Good Dancers?


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.


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)


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?