When someone is lying to you personally, you may be able to see what they're doing.
- A study uses motion-capture to assess the physical interaction between a liar and their victim.
- Liars unconsciously coordinate their movements to their listener.
- The more difficult the lie, the more the coordination occurs.
Lying one-on-one is hard when done correctly. Some people lie compulsively, with little regard to getting caught — for them it's a no-brainer. But concocting a believable lie, selling it, and maintaining it without inadvertently tripping oneself up takes effort. According to a new study, it takes a little too much effort — your brain is so occupied by the lie that your body is at risk of giving off a universal "tell" to anyone who knows to look for it.
The study, by Dutch and U.K. researchers, is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Someone who is lying to your face is likely to copy your motions. The trickier the lie, the truer this is, according to experiments described in the study.
The researchers offer two possible explanations, both of which have to do with cognitive load. In a press release, the authors note that "Lying, especially when fabricating accounts, can be more cognitively demanding than truth telling."
The first hypothesis is that when someone is lying, their brain is simply too occupied with the subterfuge to pay any attention to the control of physical movements. As a result, the unconscious part of the liar's brain controlling movements defaults to the easiest course of action available: It simply imitates the motions of the person they're lying to.
The second possibility is that the liar's cognitive load deprives a liar of sufficient bandwidth to devise a clever, effective physical strategy. Instead, while lying, their attention is so laser-focused on their listener's reaction that the liar unconsciously parrots it.
Credit: Niels/Adobe Stock
The phenomenon is referred to as "nonverbal coordination," and there is some existing evidence in deception research that it does occur when someone is under a heavy cognitive load. However, that evidence is based on observations of specific body parts and doesn't comprehensively capture whole-body behavior, and little research has mutually tracked both parties' movements in a lying scenario.
Nonetheless, say the authors, "Nonverbal coordination is an especially interesting cue to deceit because its occurrence relies on automatic processes and is therefore more difficult to deliberately control."
To track nonverbal coordination, pairs of participants in the study's two experiments were outfitted with motion-capture devices Velcroed to their wrists, heads, and torsos before being seated facing each other across a low table.
In the first experiment, a dynamic time-warping algorithm analyzed participants movements as they ran through exercises in which one individual told the truth, and then told increasingly difficult lies. In the second experiment, listeners were given instructions that influenced the amount of attention they paid to the liar's movements.
The researchers found "nonverbal coordination increased with lie difficulty." They also saw that this increase "was not influenced by the degree to which interviewees paid attention to their nonverbal behavior, nor by the degree of interviewer's suspicion. Our findings are consistent with the broader proposition that people rely on automated processes such as mimicry when under cognitive load."
There is, it must be said, a third possible reason that a liar copies their target's behavior: Maybe liars are subconsciously reinforcing their credibility with their victims using "mirroring."
As Big Think readers and anyone familiar with the art of persuasion knows, copying another person's actions is called "mirroring," and it's a way to get someone else to like you. Our brains have "mirror neurons" that respond positively when someone imitates our actions. The result is something called "limbic synchrony." Deliberately mirroring a companion's movements is an acknowledged sales technique.
So, how can you tell when mirroring signifies a lie and not benign interpersonal salesmanship? There is an overlap, of course — lying is one form of persuasion, after all. Perhaps the smartest response is to simply take mirroring as a signal that close attention is warranted. No need to automatically shout "liar!" when someone copies you. Just step back a little mentally and listen a bit more carefully to what your companion is saying.
Distancing doesn't have to mean distant.
But the measures that help minimize your risk of COVID-19 can also have an impact on your interactions with others.
As you stroll the aisle of a supermarket, you approach someone who looks familiar. To avoid an awkward exchange, you flash them a friendly smile. It's not until you pass you remember: Your smile was hidden behind a mask. Unloading your groceries at home, you see your neighbor. You excitedly ask her how she is, but when she doesn't respond, you worry your mask has muffled your voice.
As the head coach for Mississippi State University's Speech and Debate Team, my job is to teach effective communication. Without question, masks have disrupted social interactions. But communication has many components. You can adjust and enhance your communication by focusing on some of the other pieces that aren't hidden behind a mask.
Facial expressions are the primary way people exhibit emotion and decipher the feelings of others. Happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear and surprise can be communicated through facial expressions alone. But when part of the face is masked, it becomes more difficult to recognize these cues.
If you cannot read someone else's emotional state, your ability to empathize with them may be compromised. Likewise, if your own mask is hiding your emotional state, others may not be able to empathize with you. Wearing a mask can also make you feel more distracted and self-conscious, further weakening your connection to others.
Fortunately, you can regain some control over communication by working with what you have left – the eyes. If you want to increase understanding with a masked individual, you should look them in the eyes – which may be easier said than done. Eye contact triggers self-consciousness, consumes extra brain power and becomes uncomfortable after only three seconds. But bear in mind, eye contact can also make you appear more intelligent and trustworthy.
You might be surprised how much information is conveyed by the body itself.
For instance, when someone is happy, they stand up straighter and lift their head; when they are sad, they slouch and drop their head; and when they are angry, their whole body tenses up. Learning how people use their bodies to convey emotion may help reduce the uncertainty you feel when communicating with someone in a mask.
Become aware of your own body language, too. When engaged in a conversation, you can appear more attentive by turning your body toward the individual, leaning in or nodding. To let another person know you want to start speaking, straighten your posture, hold up your index finger or nod more frequently. Finally, be aware that imitating the posture of another person can increase how much they like you and even agree with you.
Don't forget the impact of your voice. It's not just what you say, it's how you say it. Along with the actual words, you also use volume, tone, pauses and fillers to convey your message. For instance, a lower-pitched whisper may denote sadness or insecurity, whereas a higher-pitched shout could show anger or intensity.
Try this – say the phrase "I didn't see you there" as if you were scared. Now pretend you are happy. Now confused. Chances are, anyone listening to you could easily identify your emotions without even seeing you. While studies show that masks do not significantly alter your voice, you may feel that your speech gets muffled when wearing a mask.
If you feel the need to speak louder, just be aware that raising your voice can alter the message you are trying to send. Changing the tone of your voice can change the whole conversation, so instead of increasing volume, try improving enunciation.
Putting it all together
While masks may make conversations feel more daunting, you are equipped to communicate, even with part of your face concealed.
Before your next interaction with a friend, think of ways to improve your connection. Pull your hair back so they can see your eyes clearly and find a quiet place to talk. Use your body and voice to convey the emotions you fear your mask might hide. Maybe most importantly, don't expect it to go perfectly. Just like any conversation, mistakes will be made.
When someone can't understand you, try rephrasing your statement, saying it a bit more slowly and enunciating more. If you are struggling to understand someone else, try to ask close-ended questions, like "Do you want to go to the park?" instead of open-ended ones, like "Where do you want to go?"
By all means, continue the proper measures to keep yourself safe, but don't neglect your relationships as a consequence. Social distance doesn't have to mean socially distant.
"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"
Deep in thought, they stand up to their knees in the water. Some build sandcastles and collect shells. Others play cards, backgammon, volleyball or badminton. Some are reading. They rub themselves with oils and are damp from the water or bone dry from the sun. The old and middle-aged, young people and children. They nibble on sunflower seeds, slice up watermelon and drink beer. They don't look at each other. They lie beyond a rock, behind a bush or just past the tributary of the river. The other side of some unspoken border.
For now, I just observe them. In order to join them, I have to meet one condition: I must take off my clothes! But I don't have the nerve.
A run-in with nakedness
My tummy's too big and I've got cellulitis and uneven breasts. My swimming costume gives me a sense of security. So I sit on my towel and, from behind the scrawny bushes, I follow the movements of people who don't bother to suntan their clothes. I lie in wait for the first people to leave the naked zone. I still believe I will get away with writing this article fully-clothed.
The first to emerge are two elderly ladies. I pull on my beach tunic and make my way over to them. Poles. Basia and Hanka. Sisters from Warsaw. I've hit the jackpot. We go for a beer.
"But how are you supposed to write about it if you don't know what it's like?" demands Hania, the older one, more as a statement than a question. "It's simply an un-journalistic approach. You have to try it, otherwise it won't be fair."
"It's unlike anything else. It's full-on freedom," adds Basia. "I've been coming regularly to Sozopol in Bulgaria for 10 years. I've got an apartment here. I like it because it's understated. It's mainly Bulgarians that come to our beach. It's quiet and peaceful. Recently, my sister has started coming with me. Our husbands are traditionalists. They don't share our passion. They sit in the café and we're here, the other side of the unspoken border."
But their experience with nudism didn't begin on the Black Sea. Hania saw nudists for the first time on the banks of Lake Balaton in Hungary, and Basia in Sweden. Brought up under the rules of communist Poland's socialist morality, neither of them could get enough of the sight of naked bodies.
"We got to Balaton sometime during the night and I was horribly tired. When I woke up in the morning, I couldn't believe my eyes. Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…" recalls Hania.
While Basia reckons her experience in Sweden is one of the funniest.
"I remember the shock. I was sitting by a lake and every so often people in super white swimsuits would jump into the water. And because I'd never seen swimsuits like this, I started looking at them. Well, it turned out that they were naked," she recalls. And after that it just happened. Hanka was living in Sweden, Basia in Canada, and they both understood that there was no need to be ashamed of their own bodies.
"I was surrounded mainly by Protestants," says Hanka. "And they say that God created us in His own image. You are how you are, so just accept it and don't make a fuss. Adam and Eve should be an example to us. And I really like that."
Basia started to appreciate the convenience and the feeling of freedom that you get from being naked.
"I can't sit in a wet swimsuit even for a moment. Straight away I get inflamed ovaries or some other unpleasant ailment. And I want to go into the water often because it's hot. How many swimsuits would I need to take with me? And it goes without saying that taking off that soggy piece of cloth is no fun, because it sticks to the body. And then you have to put on a dry one. And on top of that find a changing room. It's too much work. The whole performance of taking off a wet swimsuit is so unsightly that I don't want to do it."
Moreover, both ladies appreciate the etiquette of the nudist beach: no one stares, nobody makes fun of anyone else, and no one hides behind screens. It's quiet and nobody hassles you.
"Everyone respects each other," says Basia. "A naturist beach is much more civilized than a normal beach. There's no showing off and no public displays of intimacy, which is why there are usually no screens."
"And there's also a rule that we get dressed when we leave the beach," adds Hanka. "You have to respect each other and not cross any lines. Society doesn't accept nudists, so I can't imagine a situation where I'd go stark naked to a restaurant, or even onto a normal beach. That goes for the men as well as the women. When I see a massive, sweaty, sticking out gut in a restaurant it puts me right off my food, and this happens all the time."
I arrange to meet up with the girls the next day. I'm supposed to practice 'nuding' with them. But I'm really not convinced, although I already know that I won't get out of it.
I am held back by my Catholic family upbringing and a sense of shame, although I know very well that even the ancient Romans had no problem with nudity. I am held back by Chałupy – the mecca of Polish nudists, close to where I was brought up – and the stories of the fines issued to the shameless people there. And the mutiny of the Kaszubian people after Wodecki's hit song brought not just fans of skinny dipping, but also voyeurs with binoculars flocking to the fishing village. And every flavour of pervert too.
But I have no option. It's my job.
The further north one goes, the more the 'hairstyles' of the Black Sea nudists change. It depends which country they come from. So, while in Bulgaria they shave themselves bald, Romania isn't so restrictive and various styles are permitted. Even playful little plaits. Ukraine mixes it up a bit. Sometimes one sees accessories: colourful turbans on the head, bracelets made from shells on wrists or ankles, or long feather earrings. And since Nessebar, my tummy, breasts and the back of my body are less and less pale.
But Rome wasn't built in a day.
Setting aside the health benefits of swimming naked, sunbathing wasn't always trendy. It was generally associated with agricultural work. It was Coco Chanel herself who started the whole fashion for it in 1923 when she skipped off a yacht sporting a golden tan, causing shock and scandal. She surely never imagined that she would launch the trend for the mass rejection of knitted swimming armour.
Beach fashion began to change. Men gave up wearing pantaloons and instead wore vests with swimming trunks, while women went for two-piece costumes. The 1940s saw high-waist knickers and bras from France and, after World War II, the territory occupied by material started to shrink rapidly.
In fashion salons, or rather on the beach, the bikini quietly started to creep in. It was designed by Louis Réard in 1946, but he got slightly ahead of himself because he couldn't find any models for his show. An erotic dancer finally agreed to do it. The bikini caused a furore 10 years later when Brigitte Bardot appeared in one on the French Riviera. And another French star, Simone Silva, was accidentally photographed topless by Robert Mitchum. After that it was a breeze.
"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons
Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (Wandervögel) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote The Cult of the Nude, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.
In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (Naturheilbewegung) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.
Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (Freikörperkultur, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.
The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.
In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.
Not only the rotten West
The first state to see a true revolution in behaviour was the Soviet Union. And this was from the very outset of its existence, as it started to destroy the supposedly prudish, bourgeois order.
Homosexuality was decriminalized, mocking the West for not understanding how such behaviour was natural. It became a mecca for free sex, the results of which were eliminated with abortion – the first country to legalize this – and it welcomed naturists.
From 1924, naked people started appearing all around Moscow, decorated with a ribbon bearing the slogan 'Out with shame!' They travelled on the trams, hung out in the parks and wandered the streets. Riding the wave of enthusiasm to build a new society, they threw themselves into eradicating all the values of the old world: family, marriage, tradition. Everything from the past was stuffed into the same box, labelled 'bourgeois relics' and they enthusiastically put into practice their innovative ideology.
The followers of this new group preached that they were descended from apes, and therefore were animals and so had no need of clothes. "We are the children of the sun and the air! We don't need clothes which conceal the beauty of our bodies. Shame is the bourgeois past of the Soviet nation," they pronounced.
And they created the first Soviet nudist beach – just beneath the walls of the Kremlin, on the banks of the Moskva River. People threw off their workers overalls, exposing their pale bodies to the sun and the water. This allowed them a moment's respite from the grey reality, to liberate themselves from routine and also from the unremitting supervision.
But the story of this intense freedom in the Soviet Union is a short one. Within a few years, the People's Commissar of Public Health, Nikolai Semashko, issued an edict banning such practices, justifying it by declaring that society was not ready for this type of change. For the capitalist 'leftovers' of hooliganism and prostitution still persisted. Sadly, not much documentary material remains from that period. At least officially.
In the Black Sea resorts of Crimea and Georgia, however, they still managed to set up nudist beaches.
But the USSR started to fall into a civilizational coma. Men accused of homosexuality were sent to the gulags and their property confiscated. The same happened with abortion. Kissing scenes were cut from films, and prostitution, being a bourgeois relic of course, no longer existed. In 1986, Lyudmila Nikolaevna Ivanova, on the programme TV Space Bridge Leningrad—Boston, announced to the world that: "There is no sex in the Soviet Union!"
So how could there possibly be any talk about nudists? And yet, there was.
"Here in Odessa, there was always a nudist beach," says Marina. "I'm seventy years old and I've been a nudist all my life. Because one is born naked. I don't think I've ever bathed in clothing. The only thing that bothers me slightly is the fact that there are no beach sellers on our beaches. You can't buy any corn on the cob, or samiczek [sunflower seeds – author's note], and not even a cold beer or an ice cream. You have to get dressed and go somewhere. I don't go to Koktebel in Crimea any longer, because it's difficult for Ukrainians to enter the territory. Only Odessa-Mama beach is left. A year ago, my husband persuaded me to try Georgia. But there's no freedom there anymore. I mutinied and refused to go in the water. Scandal."
But it wasn't always like that.
In the mid-1930s, the towns of Gagra in Abkhazia and Batumi in Adjara got permission to open 'medicinal beaches for women'. These were specially fenced off areas for "the conduct of therapeutic and prophylactic procedures including sun and sea bathing under medical supervision." Ladies were treated here for tuberculosis and anaemia, as well as for vitamin D deficiency. Heliotherapy was considered an excellent treatment for ulcers and wounds, and helped encourage the regrowth of broken bones. Similar beaches were available for men, too. They stopped functioning in the early 1990s. The Batumi beach no longer exists, but the Gagra one is still there, although no one looks after it.
And even though today the Black Sea coast abounds with nudist beaches, it is a waste of time to look for one in the South Caucasus.
That said, despite the strict, puritan bans imposed by Big Brother, nudists were able to penetrate the Iron Curtain.
Naked beauties from East Germany
"I was working as an Orbis tourist guide on Sunny Beach [Bulgaria]," recounts Ivan. "Hell, those East German beauties! At that time the Bulgarians didn't sunbathe nude as often as today. Basically, that fashion came from the West. And it was a sight worth seeing. There were separate beaches for women and for men."
In the 1950s, nudism got a new lease of life in the West, and this exotic wind of change also had an effect on the closed-off region of Central and Eastern Europe. Tourists from France and Germany, choosing cheaper holidays on the Baltic Coast, the Black Sea or Lake Balaton, smuggled nudity onto the beaches of the Soviet bloc. There were fines, obviously, but the wave was unstoppable. It was the call of freedom. An absurd game of cat and mouse; uniformed authority against people without underpants.
"In Romania it wasn't so easy. We had a severe regime," says Gabriel, whose family I caught up with on the most famous nudist beach at Vama Veche. "But at night, a few of us would get together and go skinny dipping. Today it's very easy. We do it because we can. There's no great philosophy behind it."
Gabriel is relaxing with his wife, Maria, their seven-year-old daughter, Cristina and their 16-year-old son, Ioan. I watch the family from my towel. First, they play cards, then the brother and sister play with a beach ball, from time to time going to cool off in the sea. When they head off for lunch, I go after them.
It's awkward chatting with naked people. Even when I'm naked myself. It's easier clothed. We go together, but Gabriel is the only one who speaks some English.
"Every year the whole family comes to Vama Veche," he says. "We can't afford to go abroad, but that doesn't matter. It's fantastic here. We've got freedom and joy. There's nothing to be ashamed of. We've known our children since birth and they know us. A body's a body. Everyone's got the same thing. You can only relax on a beach like this because no strangers watch us."
But this staring business didn't always follow the rules. At least not during the socialist era. Young boys on the beach in Chałupy were normally there out of curiosity.
"As a rule, we lay on our stomachs, because when you are eighteen years old, you tend to overreact," says Irek about his holidays on the Baltic coast. "Once we went to look at the East German girls, obviously, and all of a sudden a clothed one comes onto the beach. And she's got no blanket. She comes past us and sits down right on the sand, not far away. First, she takes her knickers off, then her bra. We invite her to join us, because there's three of us and we're happy to share our space. I don't remember now which of us had to move but we went to bathe. She said she couldn't swim and I promised that I'd rescue her if need be. Well, of course she started to drown. I pulled her out of the water and then my friend turned up. 6'3"… So, she goes off on a date with him."
The milicja [Poland's communist-era police – ed. note] went after the nudists, but today, thankfully, they can sunbathe in peace. As long as they are out of the way. The mayor of Jastarnia, Tyberiusz Narkowicz, claims that he has no intention of playing the role of a gendarme in The Troops of St.Tropez and, as long as the nudists don't breach the conventions, they are quite safe.
"We don't have an official nudist beach, but there's a regular spot they use. Everyone knows about it and if they don't want to go there, they don't. Personally, it doesn't bother me. The nudists normally choose secluded spots. They don't go where the beach is full of people."
"When the Iron Curtain fell, rebellion against the authorities, in all its various forms, ceased," says 69-year old Jerzy, who I'm meeting in Odessa. "Then, I thought that nudity was my way of rebelling, but it turned out not to be so. I'm a nudist because I can be, not because I'm rebel. It's got nothing to do with fighting the system, or the milicja any more. Now we're just left with real nudists. But I don't go to the Baltic. The Poles are very intolerant."
This is true. In 2007, the Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS) conducted a survey among Polish people about their views on nudism and toplessness. Barely 5% of those surveyed are happy with the presence of naked people on the beach, and 96% of them have never tried nude sunbathing.
There are 51 naturist organizations around the world, of which 33 are in Europe. The largest is in Holland. In 2008, the Federation of Polish Naturists was founded. It has 115 members, although they point out that the true number of nudists is much higher.
For the next 11 days, I cast off my embarrassment along with my clothes. Never have I experienced such pleasure from bathing in the sea. What's more, I've never come back from the seaside with such an even tan.
Translated by Annie Krasińska
A general reorganisation of masculine norms interrupted the shaving-respectability regime.
Defying this regulation meant being ostracised. But on occasion, a general reorganisation of masculine norms has interrupted the shaving-respectability regime.
Alexander the Great established shaving as the ideal in Greco-Roman civilisation when he imitated classical depictions of eternally youthful gods. Though there was a brief resurgence of beards inspired by Roman emperors, the Alexandrian style held well beyond the Empire's fall. In medieval centuries, men of the Church made the tonsured head and shaved face marks of holiness and goodness, going so far as to inscribe these practices into canon law. Laymen followed suit, cutting back their beards to be worthy in the sight of God and man. After Renaissance men embraced hairy nature over holy shaving, beards were again curtailed by new codes of gentility enforced by royal courts, which had effectively replaced the Church as guardians of the moral order.
The breakdown of the clean-shaven order in the middle of the 19th century offers a valuable comparison with our own day. At that time, men on both sides of the Atlantic had new reasons to boast, but to also feel uneasy, about their status as men. Revolutions in Europe and the United States declared the rights of man, investing power in a sex, rather than a class. This gave men reason to assert their manhood with pride and, as one might expect, the most radical republicans and socialists were also the most enthusiastically bearded. By the middle of the century, the decline of radicalism uncoupled the link between radicalism and facial hair, allowing men of all classes and persuasions to assert their manly pride. No one expressed this new spirit more vibrantly than Walt Whitman, whose 1855 hymn to physical vitality, 'Song of Myself', declared 'Washes and razors for foofoos … for me freckles and a bristling beard.' Copies of the poem were sold with a full-length drawing of the poet, to show him true to his word.
As Whitman suggested, beards were liberating and empowering, and were accordingly embraced by men of every rank, from patricians to day labourers. Behind this pride, however, there was an undercurrent of worry. Even as the male sex was granted higher political status, masculine dominance was challenged by nascent feminism in both the private and public spheres. This challenge reinforced men's determination to abandon razors. Those who championed beards praised them for establishing an unimpeachable physical contrast between men and women that demonstrates male superiority. The authors of a manifesto for facial hair, written in 1853, argued that nature assigned to women 'attributes of grace heightened by physical weakness', and to man 'attributes of dignity and strength'. Men's work, they insisted, is outdoors in wind and weather, and nature provides them suitable protection. Women's work is of a different order.
The problem with this line of argument was that, even in the 1850s, the London journalists who penned these words were hardly outdoorsmen in need of beards to guard them from the tempests of Fleet Street. Yet this was precisely the appeal of the beard to urban men both then and now. Disconnection from nature and the increasing irrelevance of physical strength, along with the gradual rise of women in public life, threatened to destabilise common understandings of manliness at the very moment when manhood had achieved new political status. Facial hair served as a tangible symbol of gender difference that was in danger of becoming intangible. It is fair to say that a beard made the man.
Like the 1850s, today there is a renewed gender uncertainty that erupts in peaceful times when older constructions of manliness lose relevance. Then as now, war was limited and distant, and not available as a universal definition of masculine purpose. In the 1850s, the athletic ideal was in its infancy. In our time, sports have become so pervasive that they have begun to lose their specific association with masculinity. Even more than in the 1850s, it has proven difficult to police the boundary between the masculine and the feminine. Politics, business, sports, war, even masculinity itself, are no longer unchallenged male preserves. People born female are asserting their claim to be men, whether altered by surgery or not. Still others are declaring they have no sex or gender at all. Some men have navigated this fluid environment with remarkable aplomb. David Beckham openly embraces his 'feminine', fashion-conscious side, while at the same time always sporting a masculinising beard. With facial hair, he can have an effective physical presentation of contemporary manliness.
As they did in the 1850s, men of every region, race, class and political persuasion are again growing beards to declare the reality of masculinity, as well as their own masculine identity. While there is diminished confidence that nature has conferred upon men any particular quality or status, it might be enough for most to simply establish that they are indeed men, whatever that might entail. Like his 19th-century forebears, a bearded man today demonstrates both masculine vulnerability and pride. His status might be contested, but he puts on a brave face.
Christopher R Oldstone-Moore
What are the chances that an online connection will lead to true love?
For those dipping their toes into the dating pool during stay-at-home orders, it's been like swimming in a version of Netflix's reality series “Love is Blind."
In the show, contestants must get engaged before ever actually meeting one another in person. And while a lockdown engagement might be a bit extreme, it's entirely possible that two people have grown to really like one another over the previous weeks and months. Maybe it started with a match on a dating app, followed by flirting over text. Then came regularly scheduled Zoom dates. Perhaps they've even started envisioning a future together.
Now, as states start to ease restrictions, some may have broached taking the next step: an in-person rendezvous.
What are the chances that their online connection will lead to true love?
In my book, “The Science of Kissing," I describe how compatibility requires engaging all of our senses. And absent the touch, taste and smell of a potential partner, people dating online during quarantine have essentially been flying blind.
Human attraction involves the influence of cues that evolved over millions of years.
On a traditional date in a restaurant or move theater, we actively gather details about someone by walking side by side, holding hands, hugging and – if things get far enough – kissing. These experiences send neural impulses between the brain and body, stimulating tiny chemical messengers that affect how we feel. When two people are a good match, hormones and neurotransmitters bring about the sensations we might describe as being on a natural high or experiencing the exhilaration of butterflies. Finding love isn't rocket science – it's anatomy, endocrinology and real chemistry.
One of the most important neurotransmitters involved in influencing our emotions is dopamine, responsible for craving and desire. This natural drug can be promoted through physical intimacy and leads to the addictive nature of a new relationship. Of course, dopamine is just one player in a chemical symphony that motivates behavior. Intimate encounters also promote the release of oxytocin, which creates a sense of attachment and affection, and epinephrine, which boosts our heart rate and reduces stress. There's also a decrease in serotonin, which can lead to obsessive thoughts and feelings about the other person.
In fact, one study showed that people who report that they've just "fallen in love" have levels of serotonin similar to patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. This chemical cocktail can even lead to trouble sleeping or a loss of appetite – symptoms people often attribute to meeting "the one."
Our noses also play a powerful role in who we fall for. The famous "sweaty t-shirt experiment" reported that a man's natural scent may influence how women choose a partner. The women in the study nearly always expressed a preference for the odor of men who differed genetically from them in immune response to disease. Scientists theorize that selecting someone with genetic diversity in this region, called the major histocompatibility complex, could be important for producing children with flexible and versatile immune systems.
A kiss can make or break it
While a man's natural scent may not be something women consciously notice early on in a heterosexual relationship, getting up close and personal can serve as a kind of litmus test for a couple. A kiss puts two people nose to cheek, offering a reliable sample of smell and taste unrivaled by most other courtship rituals. Perhaps that's one reason a 2007 University of Albany study reported that 59% of men and 66% of women have broken off a budding romance because of a bad first kiss.
Complicating matters, factors that typically grab our attention in person are less obvious to recognize in a witty profile or photo. Studies of online dating behavior reveal superficial features are correlated with the level of interest an individual receives. For example, short-haired women do not tend to get as much attention from men as those with long, straight hair, while men who report a height of six-foot-three or six-foot-four fare better than their peers at interacting with women. The initial focus on appearance promotes pairing based on characteristics that aren't significant in lasting relationships, compared with more important factors for long-term compatibility, like intimacy and shared experiences.
Still, at a time when many of us are feeling more isolated than ever, online dating does offer some benefits. Quarantine has encouraged men and women to take additional time to learn about each other prior to meeting, sparing the anxiety of rushed physical intimacy.
For some couples, a real-world date will kindle the spark that began online. Many others will realize they're better suited as friends.