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Posture Inspires Passion

If you want someone to say "Hold me!," you might start with checking out the way you hold yourself.
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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

We all know that a peacock displays his tail feathers to attract a mate. But what's the equivalent behavior for humans?

New research suggests it involves widespread arms, a stretched torso, and a general sense that you're dominating the space you occupy.

A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports an open stance makes one more attractive to potential romantic partners. It apparently sends a signal of dominance, which both sexes find attractive (and is particularly appealing to women looking for single men).

"It is evident that postural expansion can dramatically increase a person's chance of making a successful initial romantic connection," writes a research team led by Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk of the University of California–Berkeley. Given how many people find partners online, or meet during speed-dating sessions, initial impressions are vital, and these findings offer an unexpected way to convey a positive one.

The researchers describe three studies, the first of which featured observations of 144 speed dates. The encounters (between heterosexual men and women in the American Midwest) lasted four minutes each. Afterward, both participants rated the experience, and indicated whether they would like to meet the other person for a second, longer encounter.

Quite literally, we're attracted to people with open arms.

"An open, expansive non-verbal display expressed during the date significantly predicted the odds of getting a 'yes' response," the researchers report. What's more, the odds of a positive response increased with higher levels of "postural expansiveness."

For the second experiment, the researchers placed profiles of three men and three women on a San Francisco-based dating app for mobile phones. Half of the profiles featured images of the person standing with their arms outstretched; sitting as they lean back on their arms (a position that thrusts their chests forward); and reaching to take a product from what appears to be a supermarket display.

The other half featured photographs of the subjects with decidedly less friendly body language: portraits in which their arms were folded or crossed in front of them, and one in which they surveyed that same food display, but did not reach for an item.

"Profiles featuring expansive photographs were 27 percent more likely to elicit a 'yes' response from a given participant," the researchers write. The attractiveness-enhancing effect of such postures held true for both genders, but was particularly strong for men.

Not surprisingly, male targets got far fewer positive responses than females. But of the 30 women who said they wanted to meet one of them, 26—that is, 87 percent—responded to a guy whose photos displayed physical expansiveness.

In the final experiment, 853 participants recruited online examined one of the above sets of photos and rated the person in the pictures for "dominance" and "openness." On average, those assuming the expansive postures received higher ratings for dominance. What's more, dominance and openness were "highly correlated," suggesting the people striking expansive poses were conveying "an open, inviting kind of dominance."

But why is that perceived quality attractive? Such poses may "signal the extent to which an individual can successfully navigate social hierarchies and form alliances," the researchers write. In other words, they imply that the pictured person either has, or is capable of obtaining, money and status.

So, online daters, as you decide how you should dress, what your hair should look like, and how widely you should smile for that Tinder photo, don't forget how much we communicate via posture. This research reveals that, quite literally, we're attracted to people with open arms.


Findings is a daily column by Pacific Standard staff writer Tom Jacobs, who scours the psychological-research journals to discover new insights into human behavior, ranging from the origins of our political beliefs to the cultivation of creativity.