Jeff Goldblum supersedes the average male height in the U.S. by about 10 percent. His nose and ears are similarly oversized. He talks a bit like a robot, and morphs into a human-sized fly in the 1986 film, The Fly. Let’s face it. He is one weird looking man. On the other hand, there is something about him I find irresistibly attractive. Perhaps it’s his smile, or his hair, or his sense of humor. Or maybe it’s not any one trait, but how my perception changes as multiple traits combine. As if by magic, the robot voice transforms to one of charming confidence, and Goldblum is a total stud.
We all know certain characteristics, such as facial symmetry, are universally attractive. But what if I told you that an attractive trait could become even sexier if paired with something less attractive?
In a study published on July 19th in Science, The Ryan Lab of The University of Texas examined three mating signals in the túnagara frog. By manipulating delivery time and pattern, they could make even the unsuccessful male mating calls wildly appealing to female frogs. They looked at auditory signals, a whine and a chuck, and a visual one, an inflatable vocal sac or chest-puff. Then, to index female preference and attraction, they measured something called phonotaxis, or the female’s movement toward a call.
From the start, they knew that the female frog prefers a whine alone to a chuck alone. Yet, if a male frog emits both a chuck and a whine, the female prefers the combo five fold over the whine alone. Additionally, females prefer a multimodal signal when it comes to mates. Like watching lips when someone speaks, female frogs prefer to see the voice sac inflate as they listen to that sexy ribbit.
To explore if there was some kind of template for attractiveness or more of a relative gauge for it, researchers presented female frogs with different combos of the signals. Out of two speakers, they played a synthetic whine followed by a chuck and manipulated the time between the two. It turned out the time between whine and chuck was pretty important, and the closer together the better. The ladies loved the whine-chuck combo, although significantly less as the signals moved further apart. In fact, too much of a gap was less desirable than the lonesome whine.
Remarkably, they rescued the attractiveness of the undesirable whine-chuck with the time gap in the middle by filling in the gap with a visual chest-puff signal via robo-frog. The robotic frog allowed them to isolate their variables of interest. More importantly, had the male frog been real, things would have gotten X-rated quickly. They concluded that there is not a specific template for attractiveness in the frog, but rather that it was all relative.
Indeed, humans and frogs perceive different sexual signals, but the main idea is the same. Mix and match different cues, and you’ve got a recipe for baby making. I know if I got the chance at a night with Jeff Goldblum, I would just croak. – by JoAnna Klein