Dominant, open nonverbal displays are attractive at zero-acquaintance

Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved February 22, 2016 (received for review May 12, 2015)
March 28, 2016
113 (15) 4009-4014

Significance

This set of studies tested whether humans are more attracted to individuals displaying their bodies expansively, a behavior considered to express both dominance and openness. Results from two field studies—a speed-dating event and a controlled experiment using a Global Positioning System-based dating application—suggested that (i) expansive (vs. contractive) body posture increases one’s romantic desirability; (ii) these results are consistent across gender; and (iii) perceived dominance and perceived openness are mechanisms through which expansiveness exerts its effect. These findings indicate that in modern-day dating contexts, in which initial attraction often is determined by a rapid decision following a brief interaction or seeing a photograph, displays of expansive posture increase one’s chances of initial romantic success.

Abstract

Across two field studies of romantic attraction, we demonstrate that postural expansiveness makes humans more romantically appealing. In a field study (n = 144 speed-dates), we coded nonverbal behaviors associated with liking, love, and dominance. Postural expansiveness—expanding the body in physical space—was most predictive of attraction, with each one-unit increase in coded behavior from the video recordings nearly doubling a person’s odds of getting a “yes” response from one’s speed-dating partner. In a subsequent field experiment (n = 3,000), we tested the causality of postural expansion (vs. contraction) on attraction using a popular Global Positioning System-based online-dating application. Mate-seekers rapidly flipped through photographs of potential sexual/date partners, selecting those they desired to meet for a date. Mate-seekers were significantly more likely to select partners displaying an expansive (vs. contractive) nonverbal posture. Mediation analyses demonstrate one plausible mechanism through which expansiveness is appealing: Expansiveness makes the dating candidate appear more dominant. In a dating world in which success sometimes is determined by a split-second decision rendered after a brief interaction or exposure to a static photograph, single persons have very little time to make a good impression. Our research suggests that a nonverbal dominance display increases a person’s chances of being selected as a potential mate.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Amanda Bowling, Samantha Chu, Shimmy Gabbara, Kyonne Isaac, Kevin Jung, Ikya Kandula, Nichanan Kesonpat, Evania Liu, Nick Nichiporuk, Lusia Tianyao Wang, and Nicole Zeng for help with data coding, data collection, and management of the project and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. This work was supported by National Science Foundation Award 1056194 (to D.R.C.).

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 113 | No. 15
April 12, 2016
PubMed: 27035937

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: March 28, 2016
Published in issue: April 12, 2016

Keywords

  1. attraction
  2. postural expansiveness
  3. mate selection
  4. nonverbal behavior
  5. romantic relationships

Acknowledgments

We thank Amanda Bowling, Samantha Chu, Shimmy Gabbara, Kyonne Isaac, Kevin Jung, Ikya Kandula, Nichanan Kesonpat, Evania Liu, Nick Nichiporuk, Lusia Tianyao Wang, and Nicole Zeng for help with data coding, data collection, and management of the project and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. This work was supported by National Science Foundation Award 1056194 (to D.R.C.).

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
*For simplicity in the current report, we refer to expansiveness as the nonverbal display of dominance, although expansiveness may signify other types of verticality (e.g., power, status). Aspects of an expansive display also may trigger perceptions of other closely associated traits that reflect subfacets of the dominance construct (e.g., emotional stability, relaxedness).
Given the low number of females choosing males, the nested analysis was supplemented with mediation analyses not utilizing the Monte Carlo method. These analyses suggested that dominance was a significant mediator for both females [95% CI (0.31, 1.04)] and males [95% CI (0.004, 0.03)] but that openness was not a significant mediator for either females (−0.08, 0.008) or males (−0.005, 0.005).
P.W.E. and E.J.F. hosted several speed-dating events. However, only one event was coded; this event was chosen because data were reasonably complete and it had an equal number of men and women. Other articles draw from this same speed-dating dataset (7477).
§
Additional photographs can be added to a person’s profile, although only the primary one appears when a profile is initially presented.
Confederates provided consent to be photographed and being featured on a profile under a pseudonym (e.g., “Jessica” or “Michael”). Research assistants who were blind to study hypotheses handled confederates' profiles.
#
The most popular male and female names in the United States in 1989 (https://www.socialsecurity.gov/babynames), the year corresponding with each confederate’s listed age of 25 years.

Authors

Affiliations

Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk1 [email protected]
Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720;
Emily Reit
Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720;
Poruz Khambatta
Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
Paul W. Eastwick
Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712;
Eli J. Finkel
Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 60208;
Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 60208
Dana R. Carney1 [email protected]
Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720;

Notes

1
To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: [email protected] or [email protected].
Author contributions: T.V., E.R., P.K., P.W.E., E.J.F., and D.R.C. designed research; T.V., E.R., P.W.E., E.J.F., and D.R.C. collected the data; T.V., E.R., and D.R.C. analyzed the data; T.V. and D.R.C. wrote the paper; and E.R., P.K., P.W.E., and E.J.F. contributed to writing the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Dominant, open nonverbal displays are attractive at zero-acquaintance
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 113
    • No. 15
    • pp. 3903-E2208

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