Why Music Moves Us

The emotional, physical, and cognitive effects of music.

Music, Fame, and Sexual Selection

Does music play a role in sexual selection?

Famous musicians like Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West seem to have no trouble attracting women. But does an interest in music give any advantage to guys who rock out in garages and basements rather than stadiums? An elegantly simple experiment done in France suggests that it does.

First, researchers recruited a good-looking young man. (To do this they showed photographs of 14 male volunteers to a number of young women and asked them to rate each man’s attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10. The man with the highest score became their confederate in the experiment.)

Next, on a sunny afternoon in early summer, the good-looking confederate took up his place on one of the shopping streets of a small city. His contribution to science was to approach women between the ages of 18 and 22 who were walking alone and (following a set script) ask for their phone number so he could invite them to meet later for a drink. He did this in three different conditions: Holding an acoustic guitar case, holding a sports bag or a control condition of holding nothing. 

The researchers hypothesized that more women would be receptive to the young man’s overtures if he was holding a guitar case. Charles Darwin believed that music played a role in human courtship and sexual selection. This idea continues to have plausibility among researchers today who hypothesize that musical interest or ability may be associated with intelligence and physical dexterity—both traits that are likely to be attractive to women.

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The results? The hard-working confederate approached over 300 women. Of these, 31% gave their phone number in the guitar case condition, 14% in the no bag control, and 9% in the sports bag condition. The experimenters’ faith in their hypothesis seems to be validated.

While these results are intriguing, the experimenters acknowledge that their study has limitations.  What worked for their highly attractive confederate might not work for every man. And holding a guitar case might have associated the confederate not with music generally, but with rock music specifically. Would the confederate have had similar results if he held a tuba case? We simply don’t know.

Reference:

Nicolas Guéguen, Sébastien Meineri & Jacques Fischer-Lokou, “Men's music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context.” Psychology of Music. Published online 1 May 2013.

DOI: 10.1177/0305735613482025

Jeanette Bicknell, Ph.D., is the coeditor of Song, Songs, and Singing and the author of Why Music Moves Us.

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