In a new study, Austrian researchers set out to investigate whether music has an impact on how attractive we find the opposite sex. The findings show that male faces appear more attractive to females who had just listened to music, particularly music that was highly stimulating and complex.
“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” says Helmut Leder from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna.
Within the framework of his theory of evolution, Charles Darwin said that music developed through sexual selection. Specifically, the motor and cognitive abilities necessary for creating music serve as an indicator for good genes and thus increase the reproductive success.
This is similar to the singing of birds in the mating season. “There are currently few empirical findings that support Darwin’s theory on the origin of music. We wanted to use a new experimental paradigm to investigate the role of music in choosing a mating partner,” said Manuela Marin, the leader of the study and former associate of the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods at the University of Vienna.
Since music, especially before the advent of modern technology, had always been experienced in the here and now, and mostly in a social context, it makes sense to assume that music could positively influence the visual perception of faces. So the research team set out to investigate the impact of musical exposure on the subjective evaluations of opposite-sex faces.
“There is some evidence in the psychological literature that so-called arousal transfer effects can occur if two stimuli are processed consecutively,” said 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.”
In the experiment, heterosexual participants were exposed to instrumental musical excerpts that varied in their emotional content, followed by a photograph of a face from the opposite sex with a neutral facial expression. Participants rated the attractiveness of the face and were asked to rate whether they would date the person pictured. In the control condition only faces without music were presented.
There were three groups of participants: women in the fertile phase of their cycle, women in the non-fertile phase of their cycle, and men. All participants had similar relationship statuses, similar musical preferences and musical training, and were in similar moods before the experiment.
The findings showed that female participants rated the male faces as more attractive and were more willing to date the men pictured when they had been previously exposed to music. The fertility cycle did not have a large influence on the ratings. Overall, highly stimulating and complex music led to the greatest effect compared to the control condition. This effect was not found among male participants.
The researchers believe these results are promising and open up new possibilities to investigate the role of music in partner selection in connection with aspects of physical attractiveness. “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.”
The study findings could have broad implications. “There is an increasing number of empirical findings showing that music has the power to influence human behavior with regard to partner selection,” said Marin.
“But how can Darwin’s theory be reconciled with other biological and social theories on the genesis of music? Music can promote social cohesion, and it also plays a role in the mother-child relationship. Until we understand these connections, there will be a long way to go.”
Source: University of Vienna