You probably don’t need a psychologist to tell you that music can be a powerful aphrodisiac. Think of all the movie scenes where the soundtrack plays an essential role in building sexual or romantic tension, from Crazy, Stupid, Love (featuring Doris Troy’s 1963 R&B hit Just One Look) to Casablanca (in which You Must Remember This by Louis Armstrong plays a starring role). The relationship between love, sex and music is why people bother to make date night playlists; it’s also arguably the force that motivates artists from Marvin Gaye to Adele.
In a new study, psychologists at the University of Vienna set out to discover exactly how music affects our feelings of attraction to others. Manuela Marin, the leader of the study and former associate of the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods at the university, says that she was partly inspired by a theory of Charles Darwin. The legendary evolutionist believed that music developed through sexual selection, with musical talent indicating good genes.
Today, Darwin’s theory has been widely discredited, but it still gave Marin an idea. “We wanted to use a new experimental paradigm to investigate the role of music in choosing a mating partner,” she explains.
In the current study, the researchers investigated whether music can positively influence how heterosexual women perceive opposite-sex faces.
“Facial attractiveness is one of the most important physical characteristics that can influence the choice of a partner,” says Helmut Leder from the University of Vienna’s psychology department. “We wanted to find out how music can alter the perception of this feature.”
The scientists recruited a sample of 64 women and 32 men to take part in their study. All of the participants were university students, and were carefully matched in terms of musical preferences and ability. The researchers ruled out any prospective participants who had more than three years of musical training.
In addition, none of the women in the sample were on hormonal contraceptives. Previous research has suggested that synthetic hormones can affect women’s taste in men.
The men and the women were divided into control groups and experimental groups. In the female experimental group, women were played excerpts of instrumental piano music with different “emotional content”.
They were then shown a photograph of a male face with a neutral expression, and asked to rate how attractive they thought he was. They were also asked to state whether they would date the man in question based on his picture.
In the female control group, women were shown photos of men without listening to music first.
The results showed that women rated men as more attractive when they had first been exposed to music – notably, “highly stimulating and complex music”.
Men’s opinion of women’s attractiveness, in contrast, was not found to be significantly affected by whether they listened to music or not.
The psychologists say that their findings lay the groundwork for more research into the relationship between music and physical attraction, ideally using larger sample sizes.
“We would like to clarify whether musical abilities and creativity can compensate partially for deficiencies in terms of physical appearance and fitness,” says Bruno Gingras from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck.
In the meantime, if you want to feel more attracted to someone, try putting on some instrumental piano music. Anyone for some Chopin?
Images: DC Lovensky / Rex Features