View Full Version : Sexual Signaling: Tinbergen at the Mall

James Brody
March 28th, 2007, 11:52 AM
"...the guy rated a girl's dancing from a distance of about 4 feet. He held a small sign up in his left hand that identified her. An inspired snoop noticed that the sign moved and the computer found that it moved more if the dancer were ovulating! So much for hidden ovulation, so much for some of our stories about mate guarding. By fidgets and laughter, we move into partnerships and we do it more readily when an egg rolls down the chute."

"A man and woman, university students perhaps but strangers to each other, were left together in front of the cameras. Hair flips by her led to fidgeting by him. If he made a remark and she laughed, he felt better although he couldn't say why. Lots of laughs and hair flips predicted long walks together in the park immediately after the session..." from ISHE notes, Brody, 2006

I ran into paunchy, staid Jay one evening at the mall, a rainy chilly Friday that makes the kids come off the streets and under a roof. I joked with him about our watching the girls and getting arrested.

I ran into him again, a week later, at noon in a local diner, the kind that will expect payment for week-old chili, the kind of diner that also trains its waitresses to call you "'Hon" or "Sweetie" the first time they see you, maybe for tips and maybe so you don't resent and their serving such awful chili.

Jay expressed his surprise that I was not in jail. I took on my ethologist persona and remarked about the fascinating life to be studied in a mall as if Tinbergen himself might come by with his stopwatch and notebook, the one that he usually saved for wasp data.

Jay doesn't know about "Tinbergen" and ignored my allusion but did the next best, the adapted thing: he talked about girls!

"I saw this one in the mall, her skirt barely covered her ass and she kept tugging at the hem."

"Yea, I've noticed her too, fantastic kid!: razor-cut black hair that just touches her shoulders, light complected, short but great quads and calves, and often has a guy hanging on her although usually a different one. She sometimes runs in a small gang of other girls and nearly always smiles and has her brows raised, calling out to someone thirty feet away."

"A camera and stopwatch might reveal her ovulating. And so would the number of her males." I either lost Charles or scared him at this point...



Grammer K. (2006) Embodied communication systems: An evolutionary perspective. XVIII Biennial Congress, International Society for Human Ethology. Detroit, Michigan, August 3.

Grammer K & Renninger, LA (2004) Disco Clothing, Female Sexual Motivation and Relationship Status: Is She Dressed to Impress? Journal of Sex Research. "ABSTRACT: ... a female's clothing choice, sexual motivation, hormone levels, and partnership status (single or not single, partner present or not present) ... analyzed in 351 females attending Austrian discotheques. We digitally analyzed ... the amount of skin display, sheerness, and clothing tightness... females are aware of the social signal function of their clothing and that they in some cases alter their clothing style to match their courtship motivation. In particular, sheer clothing ? rare in the study ? positively correlated with the motivation for sex...testosterone levels correlating positively with physique display. In females who had a partner but were at the disco unaccompanied by the partner, estradiol levels correlated positively with skin display and clothing tightness. Significant differences were not found, however, for clothing choice across the partnership-status groups."

Grammer K, Filova V, & Fieder M (1997) The Communication paradox and possible solutions: Towards a radical empiricism. In Schmitt et al (Eds) New Aspects of Human Ethology. NY: Plenum Press, pp 6-12.