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

August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


August 27 • 9:47 AM

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.


August 27 • 8:00 AM

A Skeptic Meets a Psychic: When You Can See Into the Future, How Do You Handle Uncertainty?

For all the crystal balls and beaded doorways, some psychics provide a useful, non-paranormal service. The best ones—they give good advice.


August 27 • 6:00 AM

Speaking Eyebrow: Your Face Is Saying More Than You Think

Our involuntary gestures take on different “accents” depending on our cultural background.


August 27 • 4:00 AM

The Politics of Anti-NIMBYism and Addressing Housing Affordability

Respected expert economists like Paul Krugman and Edward Glaeser are confusing readers with their poor grasp of demography.


August 26 • 4:00 PM

Marching in Sync May Increase Aggression

Another danger of militarizing the police: Marching in lock step doesn’t just intimidate opponents. It impacts the mindset of the marchers.


August 26 • 3:03 PM

The Best Reporting on the Federal Push to Militarize Local Police With Riot Gear, Armored Vehicles, and Assault Rifles

A few facts you might have missed about the flow of military equipment and tactics to local law enforcement.


August 26 • 2:00 PM

How the Other 23 Percent Live

Almost one-fourth of all children in the United States are now living in poverty, an increase of three million kids since 2005.


August 26 • 12:00 PM

Why Sports Need Randomness

Noah Davis talks to David Sally, one of the authors of The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong, about how uncertainty affects and enhances the games we watch.


August 26 • 10:00 AM

Honor: The Cause of—and Solution to—All of Society’s Problems

Recent research on honor culture, associated with the American South and characterized by the need to retaliate against any perceived improper conduct, goes way beyond conventional situations involving disputes and aggression.



August 26 • 8:00 AM

The Transformative Effects of Bearing Witness

How witnessing inmate executions affects those who watch, and how having an audience present can also affect capital punishment process and policy.



August 26 • 7:15 AM

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.


August 26 • 6:00 AM

Redesigning Birth Control in the Developing World

How single-use injectable contraceptives could change family planning in Africa.


August 26 • 4:15 AM

How Gay Men Feel About Aging

Coming to terms with growing old can be difficult in the gay community. But middle-aged men are inventing new strategies to cope.


August 25 • 4:00 PM

What to Look for In Dueling Autopsies of Michael Brown

The postmortem by Michael Baden is only the beginning as teams of specialists study the body of an 18-year-old African American killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri.


August 25 • 2:00 PM

Thoughts That Can’t Be Thought and Ideas That Can’t Be Formed: The Promise of Smart Drugs

Are we asking the right questions about smart drugs? Marek Kohn looks at what they can do for us—and what they can’t.


August 25 • 12:00 PM

Does Randomness Actually Exist?

Our human minds are incapable of truly answering that question.


August 25 • 10:31 AM

Cesareans Are Still Best for Feet-First Babies

A new study confirms that surgery is the safest way to deliver a breech fetus.


August 25 • 10:00 AM

What Can Hurricanes Teach Us About Socioeconomic Mobility?

Hurricane Katrina wrought havoc on New Orleans but, nine years later, is there a silver lining to be found?


August 25 • 8:00 AM

How Low Voter Turnout Helps Public Employees

To a surprising degree, as voter turnout goes down, public employee compensation goes up.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

How Gay Men Feel About Aging

Coming to terms with growing old can be difficult in the gay community. But middle-aged men are inventing new strategies to cope.

Cesareans Are Still Best for Feet-First Babies

A new study confirms that surgery is the safest way to deliver a breech fetus.

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 fast-food-big-one

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