The evolutionary fitness of dancing?

There is some interesting about how dance is indicative of physical health and fertility, but I particularly loved Chris Hampson’s take on some new research about why older guys dance poorly.

It is one of the mysteries of life, then, that such dexterity and skill ultimately, and invariably, leads to a phenomenon widely known as Dad Dancing
Sadly, you’ve all seen it.
Grown men who should know better hog the dance-floor at wedding receptions and indulge in cringe-worthy, awful antics that make other adults shrink away, and children wish they had eloped.
It is worse than those school pick-up moments when some spotty, gangling teenage child you have rushed to collect asks you to wait in the car because your very existence embarrasses them.

Dad Dancing is our revenge.

Explanation? Evolution
But now an academic in the U.K. has come up with another explanation. Evolution.

It seems that middle-aged wannabe “John Travolta dancing” is nature’s way of warning lovely and nubile young women to look elsewhere. Who knew?
It is, according to Dr. Peter Lovatt, the psychologist behind the study, a way of sending out a message: “Stay Away. I’m not fertile.” They then hurry off to look for a young man who is at his sexual peak, so they can have babies and save the species. 
Dad Dancing is, it seems, like fly spray – a repellant intended to kill off any sexual desire
Why you would need an academic study to tell you that I don’t know. I have yet to hear of any lovely 18-year-olds who long to dally with middle-aged, balding, boring men who are several years older than their dad.
Lovatt has apparently compared the dancing styles and confidence levels of nearly 14,000 people – more even than the judges on Dancing with the Stars. (Where did he find the time?) It seems that men between 35 and their 60s typically attempt complex dance moves with limited co-ordination. Women gauge the males’ testosterone levels by assessing the style and energy of their moves.

Then, according to this theory, they apparently make a dash for the nearest Boy Scout camp.

In a somewhat unflattering comparison, Lovatt explains: “It’s like an apple that’s going brown – you want a fresh green one instead.”

A brown apple? Me?

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Rhesus Moms coo over their babies (awwww)

We all knew that all primate moms are generally awesome, but now a new study has found that Rhesus Macaque moms do the same sort of bonding stuff with their babies that human moms do; stare at their faces, cuddle, make faces at them…you know, the stuff that moms and babies think are really fun but grosses everyone else out. *joke*

Everybody say it with me now…awwww….

Researchers saw mothers actively searching for the infant’s gaze, sometimes holding the infant’s head and gently pulling it towards her face, as this mother macaque does.
emotion · psychology

Facial expressions cultural?

Read on:

A study in the journal Current Biology finds that Eastern and Western facial expressions related to emotional states may differ enough for possible nonverbal miscommunication.

Westerners traveling to Asia may expect some language barriers. Perhaps enthusiastic facial expressions will help them be understood. Well, not so fast. According to research published August 13th in the journal Current Biology, Easterners and Westerners might not speak the same facial language.

University of Glasgow researchers enlisted 13 Western Caucasians and 13 East Asians. They had everyone examine pictures of expressive faces that were labeled according to a recognized western system called the Facial Action Coding System. The faces were purported to be happy, sad, surprised, fearful, disgusted, angry or neutral, and the participants categorized them as such. Turns out the East Asians were less likely to categorize the faces by Western standards.

By tracking the subject’s eye movements, researchers concluded that Westerners look at whole faces. But Easterners kept their focus mainly on the eye region. So while Westerners may use their whole faces to show that they’re elated, Easterners may express that feeling mainly around their eyes. Which means that facial expressions are not a universal language. That’s a fact that international travelers are sooner or later forced to face.

—Cynthia Graber, Scientific American Podcast


Monkey see, monkey do, monkey approve


We humans often imitate the body postures or mannerisms of people we meet, usually without either person realizing it.

Previous studies have shown that this imitation promotes affection and empathy for the imitator in the people who are being imitated, suggesting thiscommon human behavior evolved to help us get along and thrive in social groupings. In short, it might help strangers become friends.

But whether or not the same was true for other primates wasn’t known. A new study, detailed in the Aug. 14 issue of the journal Science, suggests the effect works in capuchin monkeys, a very social species of New World monkey that lives in tight-knit groups.

Read full story.


Latest news on female primates, of the human and non-human variety

The latest and the greatest about women primates!

1. hot climates tend to produce more girls

2. Márta Daróczi-Szabó, an archaeozoologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, recently lead an archaeological dig that found up to 10 dogs sacrificed and buried near house foundations, apparently as a way to ward off evil. Dogs protecting the home, in a somewhat odd way.

3. And finally, the slightly annoying practice of my mother-in-law constantly stealing food from her son’s plate actually had an evolutionary reasoning behind it: by stealing food, female orangutans test the patience and hospitality of males to see if they’d be good mates. So all those years of stealing actually trained my husband to be a good mate. Thanks Judy!


It’s in his kiss!

Betty Everett was right!

Recent studies have found that saliva contains chemical and hints of evolutionary fitness, so when you’re swapping spit with your significant other, you’re literally giving them cues and chemicals that describe to them if you’d be a good fit.

It also promotes pair bonding, decreases cortisol, and burns calories. What’s not to like?

Brought to us by Helen Fisher, Rutgers University, at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago. She is the official “love” anthropologist who studies human bonding, and who they pull out every Valentine’s Day to explain why we love each other. But overall pretty sweet gig.


Dog societies closest to humans’

According to this researcher in Hungary, dog social behavior most mirrors humans, more than chimps, gorillas, meerkats, whatever.

He believes that we should study dog culture to better understand humans. I am all for it, and completely agree with his findings. However, I think he and other dog researchers need to make it super-clear why dogs are so similar…because we essentially bred them to be.

First, yes, dogs adapted to us (nonconclusively, but their bones have been found near human archaeological sites as old as 40,000 years or more). But now, for the domestic dog their social structure is dependent on us, in a way.

I think studing the wild relatives – coyotes, wolves, wild dogs – provides a more independent understanding of social predator lifestyles outside of humans, if that’s what you’re going for. If you’re looking for “a mirror into humanity,” but in a somewhat look-what-we-can-do sort of way, then sure.

Jozsel Topal, lead author of the study, says that by studying humans, dogs, and wolves together we can triangulate findings about social predator behaviors. The article also quotes Marc Hauser as saying that dogs’ evolution being manipulated by humans over the years is a good thing to study and provides insight into how we evolved. But we have to remember that dogs became dogs because their ancestors ALREADY were social creatures who had society structures.

To me it feels like unless you’re studying packs of feral dogs, it’s like studying a goldfish in a tank and trying to figure out how a koi fish acts in a large pond. You have to acknowledge the co-dependence.

I think studying dog behavior is important. In fact I would LOVE to study dog behavior for a living. But my hang up is saying that dog societies are the most like humans’ societies, without stipulating that we MADE them that way, is careless at best.