The Mating Advantage of Male Musicians

Studies from two countries suggest women are more attracted to a man if he’s holding a guitar.
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Studies from two countries suggest women are more attracted to a man if he’s holding a guitar.
(PHOTO: ANDY DEAN PHOTOGRAPHY/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: ANDY DEAN PHOTOGRAPHY/SHUTTERSTOCK)

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.

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