Study: Audiences Rate Male Dancers’ “Coalition Quality” Higher

A recent study has shed light on the significance of coordinated body movements, especially collective dances, in conveying coalition quality (the perceived effectiveness, formidability, and social bonding strength of a group). The researchers found that groups of male dancers were perceived as having higher coalition quality compared to groups of female dancers, regardless of the synchronization level of their movements. The research has been published in Evolutionary Psychological Science.

Coordinated behaviors, such as simultaneous body movements, have long been recognized as fundamental to human social interaction. Across various cultures and societies, these behaviors play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining social bonds. Previous research has shown that synchronized movements facilitate cooperation, enhance trust, increase likeability, elevate pain thresholds, and strengthen social bonds. However, most of this research has focused on the first-person perspective, examining the effects on individuals participating in these movements.

This study sought to address the gap by exploring the impact of observing these coordinated movements from a third-person perspective. The researchers aimed to understand how passive observers perceive the social bonds and coalition quality of groups performing synchronized movements. Additionally, they investigated whether the sex of the performers influenced these perceptions, considering the evolutionary context in which male groups often played a significant role in intergroup conflicts and alliances.

The study involved 171 participants, consisting of 113 females and 58 males, with an average age of approximately 22 years. The participants were undergraduate students who received course credit for their participation. Exclusion criteria included incomplete participation and prior experience in evolutionary psychology courses.

To create the stimuli for the study, the researchers collaborated with professional dancers. They recorded videos of these dancers performing basic ballet movements in groups of three, with separate videos for all-male and all-female groups. The videos depicted two types of movement coordination: synchrony (where all dancers performed the movements simultaneously) and distributed coordination (where dancers performed the same movements in a staggered sequence). This approach ensured a realistic and ecologically valid representation of coordinated body movements.

Participants watched these dance videos in a controlled laboratory environment. Each participant viewed two videos, one featuring male dancers and the other featuring female dancers, in either the synchrony or distributed coordination condition. After watching each video, participants completed a questionnaire assessing their perceptions of the coalition quality of the dance groups. This questionnaire included items related to the effectiveness, formidability, and social bonding of the groups, rated on a 7-point Likert scale.

The study’s findings revealed that participants rated the coalition quality of male dance groups higher than that of female dance groups. This effect was consistent regardless of whether the movements were synchronized or distributed. Specifically, male dance groups received higher ratings in terms of perceived effectiveness, formidability, and social bonding.

Interestingly, the type of movement coordination (synchrony versus distributed coordination) did not significantly affect the coalition quality ratings. While participants could distinguish between the different levels of synchrony, this did not translate into variations in their overall assessments of the dance groups. The key determinant of coalition quality was the sex of the performers, not the simultaneity of their movements.

The study’s results align with the evolutionary theory suggesting that male coalitions, often involved in historical intergroup conflicts, are perceived as more formidable and effective. This perception likely stems from an evolutionary bias where identifying and evaluating male groups as potential threats or powerful allies could have been crucial for survival and reproductive success.

But the study had some limitations. One limitation was the small effect size observed for the main effect of movement type on coalition quality assessments. This suggests that the impact of movement coordination on coalition perceptions might be more subtle than initially expected. Future research with larger sample sizes or alternative methodological approaches could help to clarify this relationship.

Another limitation was the focus on professional dancers performing ballet movements. While this choice ensured high-quality and standardized performances, it might not fully capture the diversity of coordinated movements observed in natural settings. Future studies could explore other forms of dance or collective actions to determine if the findings generalize across different contexts.

Additionally, the study did not address whether male groups inherently possess higher coalition quality or if observers simply perceive them as such due to evolutionary biases. Future research could investigate this question by examining the underlying factors contributing to these perceptions and exploring the role of social and cultural influences.

The study, “Elephant on the Dance Floor: Revealing the Significance of Dancers’ Sex in Coalition Quality Assessments,” was authored by Ceren Metin and Mert Tekozel.

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