Guys, if you really want to impress a girl, take her to a concert. According to a new study, women tend to rate male faces as more attractive after they've been primed with music.
As far as we know, music of some kind can be found in all cultures – even when there isn't a name for it. But we're not really sure why this is. Charles Darwin chalks it up to the theory of evolution. Being able to make music shows you have good motor and cognitive skills and, therefore, makes you a more attractive reproductive partner – it's the human equivalent of bird song. It’s a nice theory, but as researchers have pointed out, there isn’t enough empirical evidence to really prove it.
Before Spotify, iTunes, and even record players were invented, music had to be performed live. Usually, it was played in a social context. So Manuela Marin, from the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods (University of Vienna), and co-workers wanted to find out if it affects our dating preferences. They did this by looking at how it influences our perceptions of facial attractiveness.
"There is some evidence in the psychological literature that so-called arousal transfer effects can occur if two stimuli are processed consecutively," says Marin. "The processing of the first stimulus produces internal arousal, i.e. increased physiological activity, which is then attributed to the second stimulus. This mostly unconscious mechanism can then influence our actions, in this case, the choice of a partner."
"Facial attractiveness is one of the most important physical characteristics that can influence the choice of a partner. We wanted to find out how music can alter the perception of this feature," Helmut Leder, from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna, adds.
For the study, published in PLOS One, the researchers recruited 96 heterosexual men and women, each with less than three years of musical training. Female participants were divided into two groups based on where they were in their menstrual cycle and, therefore, how fertile they were during the experiment.
The participants were primed with extracts of 19-century classical music, some high intensity and others low intensity. The music varied in "pleasantness". Participants were then presented with photographs of members of the opposite sex and asked to rate them based on their appearance. They were also asked if they'd consider dating the person photographed.
The control group was asked to judge the faces without listening to music.
While the music had absolutely no effect on the men rating the female faces, women judged the male faces more attractive if they'd been musically primed. They were also more likely to say they'd date the man in the picture. The more stimulating and complex the music, the greater the influence was. The fertility of the woman, however, didn't have any effect.
Discussing the results, the researchers suggest it could be because "men generally use courtship displays to attract women, and not vice versa, as implied by previous studies focusing primarily on how women are attracted by men’s musical engagement or abilities.”
This isn't the first study to link music to attractiveness – one study found that just holding an instrument can help you score a date. However, it is interesting that passive listening can have such an effect.
So, what now?
"Our goal is to replicate these results in a larger sample and to modify some aspects of the experiment," says Bruno Gingras from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck. "For example, we would like to clarify whether musical abilities and creativity can compensate partially for deficiencies in terms of physical appearance and fitness."