Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


male-musician

(PHOTO: ANDY DEAN PHOTOGRAPHY/SHUTTERSTOCK)

The Mating Advantage of Male Musicians

• May 06, 2013 • 8:00 AM

(PHOTO: ANDY DEAN PHOTOGRAPHY/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Studies from two countries suggest women are more attracted to a man if he’s holding a guitar.

For women, it seems, there’s something about a man holding an instrument.

That’s the conclusion of a just-published study from France, which found a man is more attractive to the opposite sex if there’s a guitar in his hand. Its results confirm the findings of a similar study from Israel published last year. Across cultures, the research would suggest, male musicians are viewed as promising mating material.

The more recent study, in France, was conducted by a team of researchers led by Nicolas Guéguen of the Universite de Bretagne-Sud, and published in the journal Psychology of Music. It featured a 20-year-old man “previously evaluated as having a high level of physical attractiveness.”

One sunny Saturday afternoon, in the shopping district of a medium-sized French city, this good-looking guy approached 300 young women (aged approximately 18 to 22). He introduced himself, declared “I think you’re really pretty,” and asked for her phone number so they could arrange to have a drink. For one-third of these brief encounters, he was carrying what was clearly a guitar case. For another third, he was holding a sports bag; for the final third, he was empty-handed.

“Testosterone enhances the growth of the right hemisphere, and may facilitate musical ability. If it does so, musical ability then is a signal for male fertilizing ability.”

The implication that he was a musician dramatically increased the actor’s appeal. When he was carrying the guitar case, 31 percent of the women gave him their number. This compares with nine percent when he was carrying the sports bag, and 14 percent when he was carrying nothing.

For the Israeli study, published in the journal Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, 100 single female students at Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University received a Facebook profile of a single man. It was accompanied by a friendship request, and the message “Hey, what’s up? I like your photo.” For half the women, the profile was accompanied by a photo of the man in question strumming a guitar. The others saw a similar image of the potential “friend,” except there was no musical instrument in sight.

“While only five of the 50 women responded positively to the friendship request that was sent by the profile without a guitar, 14 of the 50 women (28 percent) responded positively to the friendship request that was sent by the profile with the guitar,” noted the research team led by Sigal Tifferet of the Ruppin Academic Center.

Together, these results provide evidence supporting the sexual selection theory of music—the notion that music grew out of early courtship rituals, and is thus strongly related to mating. (For an alternate theory of why humans started keeping time and humming tunes, see here.) But they don’t answer the question of precisely why a musical instrument would increase a man’s attractiveness.

The French researchers offer some theories. Playing music “is perhaps associated with physical and intellectual abilities,” they write—good qualities in a prospective mate. It also implies a work ethic, or at least a willingness to practice. In addition, the image of a guitar (or its case) may bring to mind the image of successful musical stars, and imprint on a woman’s mind the attractive concepts of wealth and status.

Perhaps the most intriguing explanation was given by researchers Vanessa Sluming and John Manning in a much-discussed paper published in 2000. They provided preliminary evidence of a link between musical prowess and prenatal exposure to testosterone. “Testosterone enhances the growth of the right hemisphere, and may facilitate musical ability,” they write. “If it does so, musical ability then is a signal for male fertilizing ability.” (Well, it certainly played that role for J.S. Bach.)

More research will be required to determine which of these (or, perhaps, which combination) is more likely to be true. Neither study revealed if musicians are viewed by women primarily as short- or long-term mating possibilities; both sets of researchers suggest that’s a subject worth investigating.

Such nuances aside, however, there is now clear evidence from two countries that holding a guitar increases a man’s attractiveness to potential mates.

Gentlemen, start your lessons.

UPDATE: Guéguen reports that he has just finished a replication of the Israeli study, except that the subject of the Facebook profile was a woman. He found whether or not she was strumming a guitar in her photo made no difference in respondents’ willingness to be her “friend.” So adding music to the equation appears to increase the attractiveness of men, but not women.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 22 • 2:00 PM

The Paradox of Women’s Sexuality in Breastfeeding Advocacy and Breast Cancer Campaigns

We capitalize on the sexualization of the breast to raise awareness about breast cancer, yet we cringe at the idea of a woman nursing her child.


December 22 • 1:00 PM

Keep That E-Reader Out of Bed and You’ll Feel Better in the Morning

New research finds e-readers, like other light-emitting electronic devices, can disrupt normal sleep patterns.


December 22 • 12:25 PM

Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it’s time to stop.


December 22 • 12:00 PM

Pill Mills and the Rise of Controlled Substance Use in Medicare

Despite warnings about abuse, Medicare covered more prescriptions for potent controlled substances in 2012 than it did in 2011. The program’s top prescribers often have faced disciplinary action or criminal charges related to their medical practices.


December 22 • 10:00 AM

Economics at the North Pole: Are Santa’s Elves Slaves?

A pair of economists seek to reconcile two conflicting schools of thought in order to predict what sort of environments increase incentives for labor coercion.


December 22 • 8:00 AM

What Influences Whether Owners Pick Up After Their Dogs?

The presence or absence of suitable receptacles for bags is not the whole picture.


December 22 • 7:04 AM

Coming Soon: This Is How Gangs End


December 22 • 6:00 AM

Politicians Gonna Politic

Is there something to the idea that a politician who no longer faces re-election is free to pursue new policy solutions without needing to kowtow to special interests?


December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


Follow us


Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it's time to stop.

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.