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Psychologists think that you can learn a lot about people just by watching them boogie!

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[ ♪ INTRO ].

You know that feeling. All of a sudden, you hear your jam, and whether you're in the club or your living room or a grocery store, you get that urge to just.... [music] Start to do the move!

Well, While your moves probably aren't quite as awesome as mine, that's okay. They're totally unique to you. And weirdly enough, that means that people can actually learn a lot about you just from watching you boogie down—and you can learn about them, too.

Dancing is one of the oldest forms of cultural expression and every studied culture around the world does it. It might be so ubiquitous because our brains just seem to like it, especially when we're doing it with someone else. Studies have shown that dancing with a partner makes us happier, for example, and that regular dancing can slow age-related cognitive declines.

Plus, old people dancing is adorable. But it turns out dancing doesn't just improve our happiness or health. It also tells us a lot about other people.

It's a part of what psychologists call social cognition, which is basically how we make sense of information about other people and social situations. And it includes things like the intel we gain from reading facial expressions or tracking what other people are looking at. These subtle signals can help us avoid danger, get along with others, or take cues from their behavior.

And scientists have found that we can glean a lot just by watching someone dance. Kids can accurately interpret emotions from dance by age four or five, for example, and can also depict a requested emotion by, say, making their teddy bear dance. And adults can figure out emotions just from point-light displays.

You know, like those videos where LEDs are attached to someone's joints in the dark and it all seems like random dots of light… but then something kind of snaps into place and you realize it's somebody cycling or walking. Well studies have found that we can tell emotions just by looking at those while someone dances. But reading emotions is just the tip of the iceberg—or, the toe of the point shoe?

Studies suggest dancing might also relay key information about potential mates. For example, a 2015 study involving 75 men and 84 women found that the women's judgments of men dancing correlated with the guys' grip strength. The men, however, weren't able to pick out the stronger women based on how good their dancing was, suggesting that men and women extract different intel from the quality of their potential partner's dance moves.

In case you were wondering, this quote-unquote “good dancing” is quantifiable, at least when it comes to what specific groups of people generally find attractive. A 2010 European study found that men were rated as good dancers depending on how much and how variably they moved their neck and torso and also on how fast they moved their right knee. But not the left one, weirdly enough.

So just get that… boy going! And a similar 2017 study found that good dancing in women involved big hip movements and moving their right and left limbs independently of one other. So get one up here and on up there.

Why these movements were deemed attractive isn't clear, and it's possible that the definition of “good dancing” differs culturally or changes over time. But it's still likely that the hottest dance moves seem so attractive because of the information they convey. And that includes things that aren't physical.

You can get an idea of who a person is from the way they twerk as well. A 2011 study of 50 men and 60 women found that the women could detect risk-taking in men based on how good their dancing was, for example. Risk-taking is associated with good health and vigor and having lots of testosterone, so it could potentially signal a good mate.

And a 2009 study found that there was a correlation between the way people danced and the ‘Big. Five' personality traits, which are part of a popular model of personality that puts everyone on a sliding scale for each of five overarching traits. There were only 20 participants, so it was a pretty small study.

But, when researchers recorded and tracked the spontaneous dance moves that the participants did to twelve measures of bluesy music, they did find correlations between how they moved and how they scored on a personality assessment. Those who scored high on neuroticism were more likely to have jerky movements, while those who scored high on openness and agreeableness tended to have smoother ones. And extraversion and conscientiousness were both related to faster movement.

So all you need to do to figure somebody out is be like, “Hey, show me your moves!”, right? Because that won't be weird at all. Well, here's some good news!

You don't necessarily have to watch them dance—just dance a lot yourself. Studies have found that people with a lot of dance experience are better at reading other people. And that may be because physically and mentally challenging activities can shape your brain.

A whole variety of different kinds of movement and gaming activities, from sports to video games to chess, have actually been shown to improve cognitive skills, including social cognition. For example, studies have found people with more experience dancing are better at making sense of other people's dancing. That may be because dance causes more activity in brain regions involved in mirroring for them, which means that the parts of their brain involved in actually dancing really light up when they watch other people dance.

This kind of neural mirroring is thought to be a big part of accurately interpreting social signals. And in a 2017 study of 61 people who like to dance to hip hop, the more hip hop dancing experience they had, the better they were at assessing the emotional state of people's faces in photos. From that, the researchers concluded that dancing made them better at social cognition tasks even when those tasks weren't related to dancing.

So maybe Meghan Trainor is onto something. Because whether you dance like yo daddy, move like yo momma, or just do what you wanna, psychologists think dancing not only tells others about you, it might help you tell you more about them. And that's helpful whether you're looking for a dance partner or interviewing for the job you've always wanted.

So get out there because science telling you to bust that move! Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych! If learning this kind of awesome information about how your brain works makes you want to break into song and dance, you might want to click that little subscribe button, so.

YouTube will let you know every time we post an episode. Thanks. [♪ OUTRO ].