PBS/BBC Secrets of the Sexes… Matchmaking scientists


Besides the obvious perks a profession as a professional matchmaker might offer, the scientists on last night’s broadcast of the BBC’s Secrets of the Sexes were having, or getting, none of them. Not only did they not benefit from the matchmaking trade, they learned that for all intents and purposes their science was “insane, and its methods, unsound,” if I might quote Martin Sheen talking at Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now about something completely different. The scientists involved in this “speed dating” matchmaking research had originally hoped to prove their hypotheses–that we are attracted to physical virility, or fertility, to social signs of status and power, to facial features that match our own, or are correlated in some way to our own face (on a masc/fem scale of opposites)–by predicting which of 40 men and women would choose one another. Their failure was, to quote the show’s narrator, spectacular. The show was nonetheless fascinating, however. And I wonder whether they completely missed the manner in which they staged their own failure, setting up an unconventional meet and greet, then hoisting themselves on their own petard by remaining oblivious to the social interactions, and strategies in particular, that some of the participants engaged in.
Two women in particular nailed every guy there. And the three self-proclaimed male seducers couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn. But most weird was the one minute during which each couple was to sit down (they all played musical chairs until each had met all members of the opposite sex) and silently suss one another up. As if looking at a possible date for a minute while turning a dial from 0 – 100 (kept secret) is not an interaction; as if there’s no wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more, say no more, in the very town that produced the Flying Circus in the first place!
The show concluded that first impressions had the highest degree of correlation with dating and coupling outcomes. Those first impressions were sustained artificially long (it took only the first few seconds of the thirty seconds or so these poor couples had to ogle and fondle each other with eyeballs and eyebrows, mouths and ears all furiously trying to get a grip on their facial and gestural expressions, calibrating themselves to the other’s equally futile attempts at self-control, I mean some of these faces were in pain, and we’re talking “I think I just swallowed a piece of glass” kind of pain).
If they had simply allowed people to flirt and converse in a normal setting, if they had left the science out of the methods, and permitted their 40 test subjects to practice the normal methods used in flirting, well, I wonder how the results might have turned out.

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