Menus Subscribe Search
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

July 31 • 4:00 PM

Thank You for Your Service: How One Company Sues Soldiers Worldwide

With stores near military bases across the country, the retailer USA Discounters offers easy credit to service members. But when those loans go bad, the company uses the local courts near its Virginia headquarters to file suits by the thousands.


July 31 • 2:00 PM

A New York State of Fracking

Court cases. A governor’s moratorium. Pending health study. A quick guide to the state of fracking in New York.


July 31 • 11:17 AM

How California Could Power Itself Using Nothing but Renewables

We don’t need fossil fuels.


July 31 • 8:00 AM

Should Athletes Train Their Memories?

Sure, but it probably won’t help.


July 31 • 6:00 AM

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on?

According to Almaz Zelleke, it’s not a crazy thought.


July 31 • 4:00 AM

Medical Dramas Produce Misinformed, Fatalistic Viewers

New research suggests TV doctor dramas leave viewers with skewed impressions of important health-related topics.


July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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