Sex, aggression, and humour: responses to unicycling

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 20 December 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:1320
  1. Sam Shuster, honorary consultant, emeritus professor of dermatology
  1. 1Department of Dermatology, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich NR4 7UY
  1. sam{at}

    Sam Shuster compares men and women’s responses to the sight of a unicyclist

    After retiring from a busy university department in Newcastle upon Tyne, and with the time and the need for more than the usual consultancies, I was able follow some of my more extreme inclinations. As a cyclist, I had occasionally thought of using more or fewer wheels, but it was only when choosing a grandson’s gift that I got seriously lost in contemplation of a gleaming chrome unicycle. My wife said “buy the bloody” thing, which I did on the whim of the moment. After months of practice at home, I graduated to back streets, a small paved park, and finally town roads. I couldn’t avoid being noticed; in turn, I couldn’t avoid observing the form that notice took. Because at the time there were no other unicyclists in the area, such sightings would have been exceptional, yet I soon found that the responses to them were stereotyped and predictable. I realised that this indicated an underlying biological phenomenon and set about its study.


    As I had no idea what the phenomenon was, my reservoir of multipurpose preconceptions could not provide a testable hypothesis; instead, I needed simply to observe neutrally the response to the unusual stimulus of unicycling administered reproducibly. I therefore wore the same bland tracksuit, trainers, and facial demeanour, and I rode “neutrally” with no attempt to entertain.

    I closely observed for just over a year, recording details of the responses and those who made them (estimated age; relationships; and class from dress, speech, and behaviour) as soon as possible. Subsequently, I only recorded new responses or significant variants. I collected written recordings from more than 400 people.


    Observed responses

    Less than 5% of people—mostly elderly men, women, and teenage girls—showed no reaction. About 1-2% of …

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