How does nudeness affect human behavior?

by on January 8, 2007 at 10:41 am in Education | Permalink

The NYT reports that nude parties are popular at Yale and Brown.  One commentator suggests:

“The dynamic is completely different from a clothed party.  People are so conscious of how they’re coming across that conversations end up being more sophisticated.  You can’t talk about how hot that chick was the other night.”

One senior remarked that the skinny people look ugly.  A graduate "describe[d] the parties as an overload of the “liberal college environment where everyone’s talking about unfair conventions, post-structuralism, ‘boxes.’ I don’t know.”

I would expect the parties to be more socially egalitarian, given that clothing cannot be used for social signalling, or for that matter for social concealing.  I would expect less flirting, less drinking, less aggressive behavior, less lying, and more social seriousness.  These effects should also wear off over time, as people get used to nudity and develop other means of signalling and concealing.  Presumably there is informal data on such questions from nudist societies, although such groups may have greater selection biases than nude parties in the Ivy League.

Blaha January 8, 2007 at 11:22 am

The highly increased amount of eye contact is actually the only uncomfortable part of it. Everything else is much more relaxed. There’s way too much social stress involved in most of life. This is a nice break.

Ken January 8, 2007 at 12:24 pm

You can’t talk about how hot that chick was the other night.

Why not? Is there a gag order?

KipEsquire January 8, 2007 at 12:32 pm

“I found that people who would have been considered heavy with their clothes on actually looked better naked. I’m not sure why. And definitely the gaunt look was a lot less attractive.”

Nowhere does the article discuss how invite lists are crafted or how “physically egalitarian” these events are or are not.

Color me cynical, but I suspect that many if not most of these events exclude overweight or otherwise substandard physiques, and even for those that don’t, those who, e.g., are significantly overweight, decline to attend anyway.

Does staying away from the campus pool make you fat, or does being fat make you stay away from the campus pool?

It’s very easy to be immodest when you have nothing to be modest about.

y January 8, 2007 at 12:52 pm

The East Coast is so uptight. In Berkeley you have to go to class naked to cause a stir.

George Dvorsky January 8, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Jeez, I am *so* going to the wrong parties.

USAnudist January 8, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Nakedness is the great equalizer. When among a group of nude people, nobody knows your social status. There are no badges of rank differentiating Greeks from Geeks. Conversation takes on a new importance.

Physical attractiveness is often based on clothing and accessories. Without these, the real beauty of a person can be seen.

Take advantage of the new-found freedom and visit a nude beach or resort. You’ll get a new perspective and a great tan.

Andromeda January 8, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Kebko: It didn’t, er, come up.

Maybe that’s because my school was overwhelmingly male so the number of naked women in attendance was pretty small. (And the number of naked men pretty large. That might put a damper on things for straight men, though I’m not a straight man, so what do I know.)

And partly, remember, everyone’s desperately trying to keep eye contact somewhere tactful, so you might not notice so much.

But partly…just because people are naked doesn’t mean it’s a sexual vibe.

Trieu Truong January 8, 2007 at 3:59 pm

I think we should use this post to also comment on AT’s “wild self” post. Spill-over effects.

(Just kidding. But that would be funny.)

dave January 8, 2007 at 5:02 pm

golddog – those parties are legitimately popular at Wesleyan, and though the article claims administrators dont like them, I don’t recall that being any impediment to their proliferation as of a few years ago.

dave January 8, 2007 at 5:33 pm

I think people are less competitive when we’re all feeling really vulnerable and insecure together. Though it might not seem that way logically, nude is indeed quite different than barely-clothed.

jcm January 8, 2007 at 11:00 pm

Rich people can afford a good surgeon, a gym, a personal coach. With liposuction, tan bed and pilates they will look better than someone au natural, with what his/her genes gave then.
Without clothes some one can still use Channel No 5 or Paco Rabanne. That will signal a higher status than soap and water.
They can be more egalitarians but less freer, in nudist places there are more stringent rules.
Some facts:
In nudist places single males are discouraged to attend. Single women are charge half the price. Most people there are mature couples and young males.
Male men excited are told to leave.
Women are allowed to use towels and bottoms
There are Christian nudist camp.

KK January 9, 2007 at 5:17 am

well what is normal signalling at parties?
Parties are for meeting new guys and friends and have a few laughs and to flirt with girls. All you really have on display at a normal party is your personality, pretty much. Why would that change because of nudity?
Likely males, “the aggressive flirters” are going to look less flattering, so they will display more of personality.

what are the characterisitcs of people that attend these and why are they there?

likely these people have common traits like open mindedness, experimenting, etc that make them go there. so likely they are going to bond based on these common traits. i expect frivolous flirting/casual sex to be less and more “serious relationships” to come out of these parties. i imagine people will talk more about things that are really important to them. this would include social seriousness. i am not convinced there will be less lying esp. to the opposite sex. The insecurities that make people lie will still remain.

Less aggressive behaviour for sure to keep a distance and from keeping the interaction from becoming uncomfortable.

Drinking: I dont see why people who want to flirt will drink less.

Samy January 9, 2007 at 9:23 am

Why can’t they fit a tail and climb up the campus trees? Naked monkeys!

eli January 9, 2007 at 6:28 pm

I attended a few of Yale’s naked parties when I was there. It’s one of those things I put in the “really glad I did it in college, never doing it again” bucket. Very fun, but not really something you can or should do once you’re out of the permissive (no adverse career consequences), controlled access environment of a college campus, where you can at least assume the social strictures for out of line behavior are a lot higher due to the relatively tight-knit community, and the formal strictures are a lot higher due to the administration’s ability to dish out punishment at a far lower threshold than the judicial system.

To answer a few questions:

1. The conversation is about as serious and intellectual as it gets at a college party, because anything sexual is pretty much off the table. As a result, the social win goes to great conversationalists. There’s competition, but it’s quite often turned on its head, since kids who’ve built up their competitive advantage in more traditional channels (clothes, fitness) are knocked out of the running. There are no clothes to signal status and admiring your neighbor’s body freaks them out and (if you’re a guy) results in pretty undesirable consequences.
2. For the inevitable male who gets, um, distracted, there’s what my friends and i referred to as the “boner chair.” There’s a chair off in a corner where for about half the party there’s a succession of guys with their legs crossed uncomfortably.
3. You either drink less (because you don’t want to get out of hand and do something dumb) or you drink more (because you get over the uncomfortableness of being naked).
4. The heat is jacked.
5. When I was at Yale I’d guess that at any one time about 5% of the undergrad campus (250 students) had been to at least one naked party, at maybe 1% are hardcore, there every time naked party goers. I was somewhere in between. There used to be a party called Exotic Erotic (semi-clothed costume to nude) every fall that got probably 500+ attendees outdoors in one of the residential college courtyards. The less you wore, the less you paid. It was an officially sanctioned party, with a heavy police presence. A few years ago the party was cancelled due to the damage it inflicted on the college courtyard. Most students, including myself on my first visit, dealt with the novelty of public nudity and the nighttime cold of New England by drinking heavily, with the result that lots of things got broken.
6. Technically the Pundits are supposed to prevent any hooking up, but they don’t always do it. Those in the mood either make out in the main party, or they retreat to the coatroom. In fairness, this happened at only a couple of the parties I attended. Basically, anybody who feels like hooking up leaves. This stuff happens, but it’s considered really declasse, and the participants probably won’t be invited back to another party, or the person who brought them will be told not to bring them again.

Xanthippas January 9, 2007 at 6:47 pm

Note to self: no more confessional comments on other people’s blogs.

W.D. Reed January 11, 2007 at 10:24 pm

You came into this world naked and alone, you will leave this world the same way. Therefore, all the money or other status you may have acquired, while alive,will mean nothing. Let’s just call it the “conservation of status”. At that time it will not matter how large your margin!

Compu73e February 1, 2007 at 5:45 am

Always astonished by the *gasp* reaction to these things. Nude socialising is par for the course in many countries. In Austria, for example, even large ‘community’ spas are usually mixed and strictly naked, and a great place for a relaxed chat – more pertinently, family saunas in preivate homes are taken entirely naked, with friends/parners invited. In my personal experience, a male is less likely to become visibly aroused in these settings.

The same goes for nude beaches and campsites, where in fact the exceptional passing bikini can be far more titilliating. Nudity in and of itself is just not erotic if you are participating – stripped of the signals of sexual availability and status that clothing selection communicates, people’s sexual intentions are far less obvious and hence less enticing.

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