What do you find attractive in another person? Their jawline? A rugged angry 11 that graces a furrowed brow? Or perhaps you prefer that booty?
Sure, it’s easy to list a bunch of static features you dig, but a new study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior calls our attention another aspect of attraction: movement. More specifically, how your individual movement suits your body type. It seems Outkast’s banger “The Way You Move” was on to something all along.
For the study, researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario enlisted 24 heterosexual college-age participants to observe schematic point-light displays like the one below—animated depictions of the human body using only 15 dots to mark key joints in the human body—and assess the relationship between the proportion of a body, the way it moved, and overall attractiveness.
For the first part of the study, using motion captured-data taken from real people walking, the researchers created one standard male body shape and one standard female body shape and applied 50 different ways of walking to each ("motion-only walkers"). They then created 50 different body shapes for each gender and applied a standard way of walking to each ("shape-only walkers"). Eventually, they had the participants gauge the sexual attractiveness of each walker by rating how much they would like to date the walker.
They found that, yes, the attractiveness of the shape affected overall attractiveness—the more attractive the body, the more attractive the "person" was rated. And they found that, independently, certain walking styles can make someone more attractive.
But they also found that an important factor in attractiveness is how shape and motion interact, and whether or not those two components actually match each other.
In the second part of the experiment, researchers took the body shape of one person and paired it with the movement type of another to create 50 “hybrid walkers" for each gender, then asked the participants to rate the attractiveness of the hybrid walkers. The participants rated these hybrids as less attractive as the individual shape and motion components.
For Nikolaus Troje, professor of psychology, biology, and computing at Queens University and co-author of the paper, it all comes down to internal consistency—that is, the match between how we expect someone with a certain body type to move and the way they actually move.
“The point we want to make here, looking at features in a piecemeal way might tell you something, but you will miss out on something important, mainly the internal consistency,” Troje told me. “If one part doesn’t match the other part,” he explained, “our visual system becomes suspicious and is sensing that something that is not quite right.”
You know how, every now and then, scientists (or late-night hosts) will combine the top celebrity facial features to create the "ideal" attractive woman (or man)—and every time, the result looks kind of freaky because none of those individual features are compatible with each other? Same principle.
Attractiveness is not just about getting all the individual features right, Troje said. "A feature that might look attractive in one person may not look attractive when carried by another one. In our case, we used motion and body shape as 'features,'" Troje said.
In case you were wondering, hybrid walkers don't actually exist in real life. The study simply used the hypothetical walkers to gauge our sensitivity to preconceived notions of visual consistency. Still, you have to admit, if you saw a pint-sized dude walking around like The Rock, you’d probably notice.
But besides judging people you see on the street, the results of this study also have another application: animation. According to Troje, understanding consistencies in the proportion of the human body and the way it moves could make for higher quality animation—for both commercial companies like Pixar and more scientific simulation programs.
Because of internal consistency, we notice when elements of the human body seem off—whether it’s Angelina Jolie’s lips paired with Kim Kardashian’s eyes or someone walking kind of funny. So if you’re trying to capitalize on your body and make yourself as attractive as possible to the world, you don’t have to strut down the sidewalk like a Victoria's Secret Angel. Just do you.