Entries in music (6)


Music to Her Ears: Female Fertility and the Sounds of Music

What is the point of music? Psychologist Stephen Pinker likens it to “auditory cheesecake,” a confection intended to tickle our neural pleasure circuits1 -- a jolt of enjoyment rather than a necessity for human survival. But 140 years ago, Charles Darwin was tinkering with another theory: that music’s true purpose is to impress the opposite sex.2 He recognised that birds don’t sing for pure joy, but to attract a mate or challenge rivals. Could music serve a similar function in humans?

Quite possibly. The lyrics of most pop songs are about relationships, with love at first sight, jealousy, and breakups being common themes. And it’s also plain that music stirs fierce emotions, from the screaming adulation that provided a second soundtrack to Beatlemania, to the Beliebers and Directioners of today whose online worshipping of their idols knows no bounds. But until recently, there’s been little hard evidence for Darwin’s theory that music is a method of sexual seduction.

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Men: Play Guitar to Get a Date?

I was recently talking to a (male) friend from college, reminiscing about how all the guys in the dorms wanted to learn how to play guitar because we thought that it would increase our odds of landing a lady. Is it really true that women find guitar players attractive? Two recent studies have attempted to answer this question.

The first study, conducted in France, enlisted a young male research assistant who was highly attractive.1 He was not aware of the study’s hypotheses. His task was to systematically approach 300 similarly-aged women who were walking alone across a particular walkway and passing him (that is, he was told not to select only women he was attracted to). When a woman walked by, he asked for her phone number, saying that he would like to call her later so that they could go out and get a drink together.

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Building a Better Breakup Song

Remember the epidsode of The Office when, after getting dumped, Michael listens to the iTunes preview of James Blunt's "Goodbye My Lover" over and over?

After a breakup, should you wallow in your misery by listening to sad music, or should you try to lift your spirits by listening to happy music? Across three experiments, people who had recently experienced interpersonal loss, like a breakup, preferred music that reinforced their current mood (sadness) rather than elevated it.1 For example, in their third study, the researchers randomly assigned half of the participants to write about an interpersonal loss, like a lost love, breakup, or death of a loved one, while the other half of participants wrote about a non-interpersonal loss (like an academic or career-related loss). After thinking about a non-interpersonal loss, people preferred cheerful music (click here for a feel-good tune), but following interpersonal losses, participants preferred sad music (click here if you were just dumped). So it seems that sometimes we use music to raise our spirits, but when it comes to breakups and lost relationships, we surround ourselves with more sadness.

Read more about music and relationships here:

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1Lee, C. J., Andrade, E. B., & Palmer, S. E. (in press). Interpersonal relationships and preferences for mood-congruence in aesthetic experiences. Journal of Consumer Research.


"Soul Meets Body" - How Music and Relationships are Connected

As noted by my colleagues in previous articles, similarity between potential romantic partners predicts feelings of attraction and love. “Similarity” can include things like similar backgrounds (e.g., nationality), physical features, personality, hobbies, attitudes, and beliefs.

What about music preferences?

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I Need to See Your iPod Before We Can Go Out

What really matters is what you like, not what you are like...Books, records, films — these things matter.

- Rob, from the book/movie High Fidelity

There are a number of dating sites founded on the principle that, when it comes to attraction, similarity matters. Whether it’s based in your religion (e.g., jdate.com) or your computer preferences (e.g., cupidtino.com), online dating sites seem tuned in to the fact that sharing similar interests with a partner is a necessary component of a successful match. I recently stumbled upon a site called tastebuds.fm, which states “we've always been interested in the idea that music taste can say a lot about a person and that for some people it is an important factor when choosing a potential partner.” With the Grammy's just around the corner, I figured it was time to think about the importance of music in relationship initiation.

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What Do You Listen To?

We're cooking up some interesting new features for SofR. Keep your eyes (and ears) open for more details. In the meantime, we could use your help with one particularly exciting project:

Do you have any favorite songs about relationships? If so, tell us what you like to listen to when you're in love, in the mood to get busy, going through a rocky patch, getting over a breakup, etc. Basically, if it's about relationships and you like it, we want to hear from you.

Submit songs here >>