Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Impressions, impressions...

Wanderlei Silva
Photo credit: The Sun

Fascinating post by Dr. Randy Borum on the impressions of upper body strength and perceptions of fighting ability determined from faces. Read it here.

So the idea is that you can determine how good a fighter someone is by their face?

A mechanism exists within the human brain that enables people to determine with uncanny accuracy the fighting ability of men around them by honing in on their upper body strength. What's more, that assessment can be made even when everything but the men's faces are obscured from view.

The details.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2008) — For our ancestors, misjudging the physical strength of a would-be opponent might have resulted in painful –– and potentially deadly –– defeat.

Now, a study conducted by a team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara has found that a mechanism exists within the human brain that enables people to determine with uncanny accuracy the fighting ability of men around them by honing in on their upper body strength. What's more, that assessment can be made even when everything but the men's faces are obscured from view.

A paper highlighting the researchers' findings appears in the current issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

"Assessing fighting ability was important for our ancestors, and the characteristic that the mind implicitly equates with fighting ability is upper body strength," said Aaron Sell, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSB's Center for Evolutionary Psychology and the paper's lead author. "That's the component of strength that's most relevant to premodern combat. The visual assessment of fighting ability is almost perfectly correlated with the perception of strength, and both closely track actual upper body strength. What is a bit spooky is that upper body strength can even be read on a person's face.

I'd have to say that, in my experience, it's somewhat accurate. Who among us can say that a Wanderlei Silva, Mike Tyson, or Randy Couture doesn't look tough? I'd have to say that there are folks out there whose appearances would give me pause on my best day, and who I'd only tangle with if my life depended on it.

On the the other hand, I remember being bounced around a ring by a baby-faced Jimmy Lange when he may have been 14 years-old or so, and I was a grizzled veteran of many ring rounds. I've also sparred and grappled with young guys who've fared very well, but I knew would wilt if I put on my "game face" and body language. I'd say you never know...

6 comments:

BSM said...

That's a great find! Bear in mind the researchers appear to have equated fighting ability with strength alone. There is an evolutionary link to that and many animals try to appear bigger than they are to scare off enemies. e.g. the house cat puffs up when threatened. However, as you noted, size does not always make a good fighter.

I can remember sparring a guy half my age and size. For every one hit I made he made three and it was only my experience from other martial arts that kept him from knocking me out. I lost the match terribly but he never scored a point off my head. (we'll not talk about how my body felt!)

markstraining.com said...

To people who are not experienced in fighting, the way a person looks, will most of the time play a huge part. However, as a fighter becomes more experienced, looks should not come into it at all, but instead, the way one moves, positions himself when attacking and countering, holds his guard etc should be observed and noticed. Interesting topic.

Colin Wee said...

Nat - my response to your post at There is no first attack in Karate. :-) Cheers, Colin

Dojo Rat said...

You frighten me, Nathan... {;-)
D.R.

Nathan at TDA Training said...

BSM, you said, "! Bear in mind the researchers appear to have equated fighting ability with strength." I agree. That's why I said that "you never know..." In martial arts training and practice, I think, the training can be a great equalizer, but some are just more brutal.

Marks, I concur completely. I will say, though, that some are good at disguising their true abilites. I've know several "old" instructors whom I'd never want to cross! They have that AND the benefit of surprise with anyone with whom they might tangle.

Colin, sorry, but I've been swamped. I'll check out and respond to your post here or in your comments.

DR - I'll take that in the manner intended, and say, "sticks and stones!" I've scared many a man with my appearance, and it's not even makeup!

Nathan at TDA Training said...

Oh, DR, and I've also had many say something to the effect of, "you're just not right!"