Expansive body posturing increases romantic attractiveness, UC Berkeley researcher finds

Mikaela Raphael/Staff

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A study led by UC Berkeley researcher Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk and published Monday found that expansive body posturing increases one’s romantic attractiveness.

The data collected through a series of experiments conducted by Vacharkulksemsuk’s team suggested that expansive, as opposed to contractive, body posturing could communicate a sense of perceived dominance or openness that was romantically desirable. The results were consistent across gender, the study said.

Vacharkulksemsuk defined expansive posturing as a behavior in which people expand the body to occupy more physical space, possibly by spreading limbs or stretching their torso.

“(Expansive) postures are perceived as an indicator that the person is dominant, has access to resources, and is willing to share them — these are qualities that people find desirable,” Vacharkulksemsuk said in an email.

The researchers conducted two field studies on the attractiveness of expansive and contractive postures, the first involving speed dating and the second involving a GPS-based mobile dating application and photographs. They found that, overall, expansive postures elicited more romantic desirability than contractive postures.

The study was motivated by a need to expand research in the field of how body language is perceived and translates to romantic attraction, Vacharkulksemsuk said in an email.

She added that her study has great relevance to modern romantic connections, especially through mobile applications and speed dating, because these relationships often begin with quicker judgments made from a photograph or brief interaction. Therefore, she said, knowing how to maximize attractiveness in a brief period of time can increase a person’s chances of scoring a date.

Alagia Cirolia, a sophomore cognitive science major at UC Berkeley, questioned whether the findings resulted from any dominance that expansive posturing suggested or simply from the posture itself.

“I’d be interested to see if this dominance is measured in … ways other than posture, because if it was truly the dominance aspect of an expansive posture, then other forms of dominance (would show a similar effect),” Cirolia said. “I guess the question is whether or not this is just about the posture itself or whether it’s the dominance.”

Uri Maoz, an adjunct professor of psychology at UCLA, also speculated whether attraction could have resulted from factors other than the dominance associated with expansive postures.

He proposed that expansive postures may be attractive because they are more revealing or simply stand out more.

“Maybe it’s because you get to see more of the body, more of the merchandise,” Maoz said. “You can hardly see anything when you’re folded up. If the person is looking down, you can’t see them.”

Cirolia also noted that the findings raise major questions about whether the behavior is socially or biologically based. The study could be dealing with the social construction of romance, Cirolia said, which could differ greatly across cultures, particularly when differing gender norms are at play.

Vacharkulksemsuk said in an email that social and biological explanations are both plausible, adding that many more areas are open for future exploration within the realm of modern dating.

“Today’s ways of meeting other people opens up a whole new arena for understanding human thinking and behavior,” Vacharkulksemsuk said in an email.

Contact Lucas Lochner-Bravo at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @llochner_dc.