SGP 2013: Sensory Speed Dating
August 17, 2013 by Zoe
This summer Guerilla Science hired two spectacular interns (paid, mind you) with the generous sponsorship of the Wellcome Trust.
Marissa Chazan, a freshly minted cognitive neuroscience masters student from Sussex worked tirelessly to help us produce the best range of events we’ve ever held at the Secret Garden Party. She tells us about her baby: an afternoon session of Sensory Speed Dating…
This summer Guerilla Science turned matchmaker with a session of Sensory Speed Dating at the Secret Garden Party festival. Armed with a plethora of knowledge – thanks to outstanding evolutionary psychologist Rob Burriss – we explored how we use our senses in the strange science of attraction.
First: forget love at first sight, what about love at first smell?
Round one saw our group of blindfolded singletons using their noses to take cautious whiffs of potential partners’ sweaty armpits. Why would we ask grubby mid-festival strangers to smell each other blindfolded? Well, aside from the fact that it was quite amusing to watch, it was also in the interest of science: people are partial to the smells of others that are genetically different, which ensures a healthy genetic diversity when they mate. So sexual selection is actually sensual selection. Wouldn’t Darwin be proud?!
Next our love-hungry hopefuls used their sense of touch to rate a second lot of prospective dates: could they feel out a fancy? Rather than orchestrating a mass-groping session, we simply had the participants feel each other’s faces: a twist on a standard face perception task.
Rob explained that variations in facial features advertise differences in health and genetics, thereby determining our sexual allure—even beard length may signal to potential suitors a man’s implicit genetic attractiveness.
Round three was all about taste, so our pairs of blindfolded strangers were asked to seductively feed each other the decidedly unsexy combination of cherry tomatoes, carrot cake, raw kale, and chocolate.
Eating particular fruits and vegetables can boost different types of skin pigments and make you look more attractive; as Rob clarified, a carrot is better than a sunbed. We also unearthed the sad truth about aphrodisiacs like chocolate: there is no reliable scientific evidence that they work. However, studies have shown that nutmeg can increase libido in rats, so we doused our carrot cake in nutmeg hoping to get our speed-daters as randy as rats…
The hearing round saw our newly partnered singles (still blindfolded of course) telling their best pick-up lines, jokes, or funny stories.
Humour has been shown to be scientifically sexy, while non-verbal characteristics of speech, such as pitch, also affect our instinctive attraction to others.
Round five was definitely the most entertaining – from our point of view: movement. While people commonly assume there are just five senses, in fact there are many more, perhaps at least 20 (although scientists disagree on the exact number).
In this round our blindfolded singletons grinded with different partners to the funky disco sounds of “Jungle Boogie” by Kool And The Gang. As it turns out, how well you move your body affects how attractive you are, because it reliably communicates important information about your condition and vigour.
Last, but not least, we came to the sight round. Finally our hopefuls could quietly feast their eyes upon each other. Evidence shows that this is the quickest way to fall for someone, but we decided to meddle a little more by playing some different kinds of music…
For one partner, we played “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye, because sexy music has been scientifically shown to encourage love at first sight. For the next partner, on the other hand, we blasted “Creep” by Radiohead. Hearing Thom Yorke’s soft voice crooning, “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo”, doesn’t exactly set the mood (our control condition if you will). This rings true in the academic literature, because, as Rob explained, women are more likely to give their number to men when listening to romantic songs than other incongruous music.
The pay off came after the rounds were finished and the score sheets tallied as we spotted some of the matches getting to know each other better outside the tent: it seems as though Guerilla Science might just be cupid’s geeky little brother…
Many thanks to Marissa for working tirelessly all summer!