Ladies: Have you come home after a horrible date and asked yourself, "What was I thinking when I agreed to go out with him?" Well, here's a possible explanation: It may have been the music playing in the background when you first looked into his eyes.
That's the implication of newly published research, which finds women perceive men as more attractive and desirable when their faces are paired with complex classical compositions.
"Our results clearly demonstrate that music-induced arousal can significantly prime dating desirability," writes a research team led by University of Vienna psychologist Manuela Marin. Call it the Bach Effect, or the allure of the allegro.
The study, published in the online journal PLoS One, featured 72 participants, most of whom were university students. They were divided into three groups: women in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle, women in the infertile phase, and men. (None of the women were using contraceptives; none of the participants were musicians.)
Each participant began by viewing a series of 40 professionally photographed faces of members of the opposite sex. Using one-to-seven scales, they rated each face for attractiveness, and expressed their level of interest (if any) in dating the person.
Call it the Bach Effect, or the allure of the allegro.
They then viewed the photos and rated the faces four additional times. For these trials, short (25-second) excerpts of romantic-era piano music played as the next image was cued up. The pieces, by composers including Brahms, Liszt, and Chopin, were categorized as either pleasant or unpleasant, and as stimulating or not-so-stimulating.
The result: Women, no matter where they were in their menstrual cycle, rated the men as more attractive if they had just heard arousing music, regardless of whether it was pleasant or unpleasant. They also were more interested in dating the men under those conditions.
In contrast, the men's opinions of the female faces were not affected by the musical cues.
"These results generally support the idea that the experience of music may play a role in women's social behavior in a mating context," the researchers conclude. "High-arousing (i.e., more complex) music affects the perception of male facial attractiveness and dating desirability."
The results add weight to the argument that music evolved because it proved useful in the courtship process. Other theories suggest it began as a form of mother-child bonding, while still others say it developed as a method of creating social cohesion—a way of getting a large group of people to think, and act, as one.
The latter notion seems to have the most evidence behind it (for present-day applications, think military marches, or pep rallies). But, as the researchers note, the explanations are not exclusive. Perhaps music became so ubiquitous because it helps fulfill a variety of human needs—including finding a mate.