Dating tip from a mating behavior expert: Channel your inner animal
As an animal behavior scientist, Jennifer Verdolin knows a lot about animal courtship. When she's not teaching animal conservation to undergraduate students in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Verdolin, an assistant professor of practice, is also a speaker, podcast host and science author.
Her research focuses include documenting personality and social network dynamics in animals, as well as illustrating what animal courtship and mating can teach us about human relationships. For example, last year she published research about how prairie dog kisses play into the intricacies of the animal's social dynamics.
Verdolin recently took on the role of scientific consultant for the Discovery+ program "Love in the Jungle." It isn't your typical nature show – or your typical dating show. It's a reality television show featuring 14 unlucky-in-love singles who are fed up with the modern dating world and decide to embrace their inner animal and compete in a truly wild social experiment. Contestants try to find their match using the same strategies animals do – such as fighting like aggressive toads, strutting like flamingos or bellowing like red deer.
In this Q&A, Verdolin spoke about her work on the show and whether humans can learn a thing or two from the animal kingdom when it comes to love.
How did you come to be a scientific consultant on "Love in the Jungle?"
I've been really fortunate to work on several television projects and Discovery recommended me to the creators of "Love in the Jungle" since they were familiar with my work that highlights how we can learn from other species, especially in the area of relationships.
What were your responsibilities? Did you work directly with contestants?
In the early stages of the project, I provided the team with courtship behaviors from a wide range of species. The great thing is that, with millions of species to choose from, there is no shortage of options. As the project progressed, I got more involved with discussing the challenges, so that what we were doing stayed true to the real behaviors we see in other species. Although I did not work directly with the contestants, I did have the opportunity to look at their behaviors and help guide the team in giving each of them an animal persona to embody while on the show. I thought about their body language, what they said about themselves, and what challenges they experienced out in the dating world.
How accurate are the contestants' representations of animal courtship rituals?
One of the things I love about the show is that the behaviors displayed, both in the challenges and by the contestants themselves, really accurately reflect many of the elements we see happening in other species all the time. Specifically, all of the challenges were based on the real courtship behaviors of the species represented and were creatively expressed in ways that tapped into the animal inside all of us.
Beyond entertainment, what do you hope viewers get from the program?
Although I think the show is compelling on its own, my hope is that people recognize there is so much we have in common with each other and other species – more than we realize. I also hope that viewers learn more about themselves by thinking about how they approach dating and relationships, something (that) I think happened for all of the contestants. When it comes to dating in particular, understanding that, one, we pay attention to more cues than we realize, like body language, social interaction, odor, etc., all before we've said a word and, two, our initial attractions to others are really about wanting and needing to get more information about the compatibility of a partner. More broadly, my hope is that viewers appreciate how other species are also out there solving some of the same problems and challenges we face.
"Love in the Jungle," a seven-part series, was launched on the Discovery+ streaming service on May 8. A new episode is added each Sunday.