Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Dance and Male Quality in the Biology Letters

Good Dancing may be sign of Male Health, Scientists Say - BBC:

Dr [Nick] Neave [of Northumbria University] asked young men who were not professional dancers, to dance in a laboratory to a very basic drum rhythm and their movements with 12 cameras.

These movements were then converted into a computer-generated cartoon - an avatar - which women rated on a scale of one to seven. He was surprised by the results.

"We thought that people's arms and legs would be really important. The kind of expressive gestures the hands [make], for example. But in fact this was not the case," he said.
"We found that (women paid more attention to) the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. So someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding."

Movements that went down terribly were twitchy and repetitive - so called "Dad dancing".

In the video at that link, Dr. Neave adds:

"The head and the neck and the torso can move around three different angles - forwards and backwards, side to side, turn around - and somebody who's putting all those moves together, in a different way, and making them sometimes big and sometimes small, and showing variability, and flexibility, and creativity in the way that they move their head and their neck and their body, they will be percieved as a good dancer. A bad dancer is someone who engages in very rigid, stereotypical movements. A head nod - a headbanger, for example, is a bad dancer."
Makes sense to me, huh. In so many ways.

I know that science reporting is often pretty dodgy. But in in this case they do tell us what journal the article is in, the Royal Society Biology Letters, which allows me to check the abstract and say that the news article doesn't go much beyond the abstract itself, which (in part) says this:
Linear regression subsequently revealed that three movement measures were key predictors of dance quality; these were variability and amplitude of movements of the neck and trunk, and speed of movements of the right knee. In summary, we have identified specific movements within men's dance that influence women's perceptions of dancing ability. We suggest that such movements may form honest signals of male quality in terms of health, vigour or strength, though this remains to be confirmed.

Indeed, it's possible that moving the core body region in a controlled, varied, creative and twisty way is just genuinely quite difficult, which I think is what they're saying with the technical sense of "honest", and certainly doesn't contradict my personal experience (hello, confirmation bias).

In fact I have several questions about this, such as how the subjects rated their own dancing, how other males rated the dancing, whether there was any definition of dancing, and whether the researchers went beyond the distinction between 'professional' and otherwise. Part of the abstract I didn't quote also implies that the dance of men was found to be more informative than the dance of women, and it would be interesting to know if that was true, or if they didn't measure any female subjects for some reason, or if there just wasn't enough difference between female subjects they measured to be able to tell. I also wonder what the overall goal of the study was and whether it's part of a wider programme of research. The article will be available for free in a year's time; at the moment it costs a rather eye-popping £27, which I don't think I can justify.

And also, why the right knee? Did it matter if they were left-handed? In fact, can you tell from someone's dancing if he's left-handed or not? I know you can with at least some beginner tangueros, who (I remember noticing) if not given definite instruction or obstruction sometimes start with a motion to the right instead of the stereotypical leftward weight-change.

A little bit more digging finds two videos from the study.

There's a lot more in the Letters about animal locomotion, although I don't think any of it changes the lots-of-data-and-no-theory situation.


ghost said...

Particularly after looking at the good dancer video I refer you to this

Can you spot any men who look like they're good dancers? Plenty of um imaginative movement. The demon in the blue suit doesn't count!

The women on the other hand... :yum: (well half the time anyway)

Mark said...

I can't see Ghost's video in Argentina - helpfully blocked on copyright grounds by Sony - but pity the poor woman who has to dance with either of those bad/good avatars.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that like in real life it's more complicated, as it almost ways is with humans. We humans form groups, either in the way we are made (iq, child culture) or brought up (friends, influences, adult culture).

So I'm happy that a section, maybe even a big section, of humans is attracted by big movements and extrovert ostentatious displays - I refuse to believe that some of us are attracted by a more assured, connoisseured, no-need to fling it about, style of dance where we appreciate some of the nuanced, the details, the witty absences of movement, the humour ...

I suspect its the difference between many people liking big triple decker mc-donalds chemically enhanced burgers vs a tiny small amouse-bouche flight of gastronomic excellence.

This talks about it - and has a video of small assured dance, not big crazy dance.

msHedgehog said...

@Mark, there's no question of dancing 'with', as partner dance wasn't considered.
@Anonymous - you seem to think the article says almost the exact opposite of what I think it says. Why do you think that it says 'big, ostentatious' movements were more attractive than others? They say very specifically what they measured, and it wasn't that.

ghost said...

@Mark - it's a montage of dancing from Buffy and Angel. If you've ever seen the scene of Angel having a flashback of why he doesn't dance you'll know why the "good dancer" video reminded me of it.

I have a theory that women just innately tend to look better dancing then men, but women tend to disagree with it.

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