Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Body sway predicts romantic interest in speed dating” by Chang, A.; Kragness, H. E.; Tsou, W.; Bosnyak, D. J.; Thiede, A. and Trainor, L. J. (2021), in which authors organize a series of speed dates to study how music and body movements influence the participants’ romantic interests.

Love relationships are one of the most essential social bonds for humans and, in addition, they are fundamental for society.

Because of this, many previous studies have investigated the social and personality factors that are related to the formation and maintenance of these relationships, as well as the happiness and outcomes of them.

One of the aspects that has caught most of the attention of experts and also the general public is the first moment of this bond, that is, the origin, the initial romantic interest. To investigate this, speed dating has been used, which is a process in which people have a series of dates lasting a few minutes with potential romantic partners. The reason for the validity of this method is that it allows good experimental manipulation, in addition to the fact that it has the approval of the scientific community.

However, the role of interpersonal interaction and nonverbal behavior in early romantic interest has rarely been studied scientifically, despite being seen as a crucial factor for individuals.

In this particular article, authors focus on the swaying of the body, the interactive body movements of potential partners involved in speed dating, and how these relate to romantic interest.

Body balance is part of people’s nonverbal behavior and serves as an indicator of interactions in many settings. People rarely sit and stay completely still, they rather make subtle head and body movements, usually unconsciously. 

When two or more people are having a conversation, are in a psychotherapy session, or are playing music at the same time, their body swings tend to be coupled.

We have already mentioned that what is studied in this article is the body balance and its relationship with the initial romantic interest. Well, to evaluate it, the coupling ratios between the balance of one person and the other were examined, throughout the 4 minutes that each appointment took place.

In addition, an interesting factor was taken into account: music. Dating environments often include music in the background, yet the effect of music on early romance has rarely been studied.

Many places where people experience romantic interactions, such as restaurants, bars, and parties, have music. It is known that it drives both intentional and unconscious movements, especially styles like soul, funk or jazz, which have a high level of  “groove”. The “groove” would be the instinct that makes us move and that is born from the musical influence.

Empirical studies have shown that certain types of music promote the swaying of the body, therefore, authors hypothesized that musical rhythm could affect initial romantic interest by improving the coupling of the body sway.

To investigate all this, 55 participants were gathered. There were two dating sessions between men and women of legal age. Different background music was selected for each session. Face-to-face contact between potential partners prior to dates was minimized, and participants were instructed to have conversations and interactions only with their partner at the table. After each date, each participant completed a questionnaire about his/her partner.

Body sway directional coupling was found to predict interest in romantic relationships in the long term, but not in the short term. Specifically, participants seemed to have a greater interest in a long-term relationship if their sway dynamics predicted better their potential partner’s body sway.

This is consistent with previous studies that show that interest in short-term relationships is primarily associated with attractiveness, whereas interest in long-term relationships is associated with personality and socially attractive characteristics, such as intelligence, honesty and warmth.

Authors propose the idea that the coupling of body sway reflects the quality of communication in the couple and reveals the degree of compatible personality characteristics.

On the other hand, regarding music, it is shown that it promotes romantic interest during speed dating, which motivates future research on this topic. However, no evidence was found about music being related to greater sway coupling, which was not consistent with the hypothesis. But it is important to mention that other previous studies show that music with “groove” promotes the incorporation of movement to the interaction and therefore it is necessary to delve into whether it benefits the emergence of romantic bonds.

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it influences our personal relationships, visit our Nonverbal Communication Certificate, a 100% online program certificated by the Heritage University (Washington) with special discounts for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.

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