By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent and Argued by Fred Bijster
It is where many couples first set eyes on one another – and now research suggests that the dancefloor is the perfect place to gauge a prospective partner’s personality.
Scientists have claimed that the way a person gyrates in time to music can betray secrets of their character. Using personality tests, the researchers assessed volunteeers into one of five “types”. They then observed how each members of each group danced to different kinds of music. They found that:
- Extroverts moved their bodies around most on the dance floor, often with energetic and exaggerated movements of their head and arms.
- Neurotic individuals danced with sharp, jerky movements of their hands and feet – a style that might be recognised by clubbers and wedding guests as the “shuffle”.
- Agreeable personalities tended to have smoother dancing styles, making use of the dance floor by moving side to side while swinging their hands.
- Open-minded people tended to make rhythmic up-and-down movements, and did not move around as much as most of the others.
- People who were conscientious or dutiful moved around the dance floor a lot, and also moved their hands over larger distances than other dancers.
Dr Geoff Luck of the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, who led the research, said: “Music is known to evoke strong emotions in people and emotions can be expressed through bodily movement.
“People use body motions as reliable indicators of others’ personality types, and even the movements of robots have been shown to elicit attributes of ‘personality’ by observers.”
The researchers studied the dance moves of 60 volunteers who had been selected from 900 people who conducted personality tests. The dancers were picked due to having strong scores in one of the five main personality traits being studied.
Each of the volunteers were asked to dance spontaneously to 30 different tracks from six different genres of music – rock, techno, Latin, jazz, funk and pop. Using motion capture technology, the researchers recorded the dance styles of all the volunteers as they were played each musical clip before analysing the movements using computer software.
The researchers found strong correlations between certain dancing styles and each of the personalities. They also discovered that different personalities danced in different ways depending on the music.
Rock music tended to bring out stereotypical headbanging moves, particularly among those with an extrovert personality.
Those with open-minded personalities seemed to make more rhythmical limb movements than anyone else during techno music.
Agreeable individuals seemed to move around more confidently than the others during Latin music, while the conscientious participants changed from moving around the dance floor to making smaller jerkier movements while listening to techno music.
Rock music appeared to be the only genre that brought neurotics out of their shells; otherwise they tended to make small, nervous movements.
Dr Luck, a researcher in “music-related movement” — also known as dancing — added: “Certain movements may be more representative of particular genres, such as the way listeners tend to nod their head or tap their foot when listening to jazz music.
“Future work might examine how other genres of music, such as classical or world music, influence listeners’ spontaneous movements. Such music may not elicit the same kind of rhythmical dancing movements, but would help us better understand the effects of music on body movement.”
Michelle Groves, associate dean at the faculty of education at the Royal Academy of Dance, said professional dancers were trained to express their emotions when they danced and tended to hide their personalities, but this would be less obvious in untrained people.
She said: “There has been work in the past that has shown you can guess at a person’s personality from the way they move, but it hasn’t looked at dance.
“Professional dancers tend to have introverted personalities, but they are are highly emotional which they draw on when they are performing. It is a nice contrast to this research with people who have not been through a period of training, as their personality comes through more clearly and it hasn’t been self-selected.”
Dr Peter Lovatt, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and a former professional dancer, said dancing and movement could convey subtle messages about the way people are feeling and thinking, which has its routes deep in our evolutionary history.
He said: “There is a common train of thought that dancing is related to sexual selection and is part of the mate selection process.
“We have done some work asking 14,000 people to describe their dancing styles and we saw that dancing changes with age as their confidence in dancing changes. “Confidence plays an important role in the way people dance. Self esteem also plays an important role and this can influence a person’s personality.”
From Fred Bijster:
Although I agree with the principle that one can “read” signs of the personality and character of a persons in the way they dance, I have strong doubts on the conclusions mentioned.
Why are only 5 types defined? It seems an enormous simplification of my understanding of personality. Leaving out the rest.
It is based on the selection of 900 persons who did a personailty test (?) and from these were 60 selected who scored strong in the confirmation of just these five personality traits mentioned. Leaving out the rest again.
Very important (and not mentioned): were these 60 people of one culture or a variety of cultures? Were they of a different age? I could think of quite a few more issues that would play a role in what we in general define as personality.
For me personailty is very much culture- and age-bound; we develop a personality during our lifes. It is not rigid.
Even character, mostly seen as the stable core of identity, should be under scruteny from the perspective of a psychologist: more than once, following certain mishaps, we can observe behaviour that we define as a “complete or partial change of character” in persons.
Next to that, we confront the selected group with different forms of music. Now if anything is culture-bound, it must be music! And we let them dance! If anything else is culture-bound, it is the dance!
So to me it is not very surprising to find a strong connection between personality, music and dance. It is bound to be so, isn;t it?
And it is bound to be “trained” to a great extend since it is cultural.
My conclusion would rather be that the way we express ourselves in dance is bound (to a great extend) by our cultural background and people can develop their understanding and personalities during their lives.