Received 1 April 2012.
Accepted 1 April 2012.
Published online 22 May 2012.
© 2011 by Human Behavior and Evolutionary Societ y of Japan
Vol. 3 No.1 (2012) 4-6.
Preliminary Support for
the Sexual Selection
Theory of Music
Sigal Tifferet*, Or Gaziel, Yoav Baram
Ruppin Academic Center, Emek Hefer, Israel
*Author for correspondence (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Music is a universal phenomenon that has genetic
and brain-localized features. A s such, it war ra nts
adap tiv e evo lution ary explanation s. While some
scholars believe that music arose as a by-product of
other adaptations, others argue that music is likely
to have ser ved some adaptive function, for example
in coalition signaling or mother-child bonding. The
sexual selection theory of music suggests that music
serves as a signal in mate selection. While this claim
is prevalent, it lacks empirical evidence. A facebook
experiment revealed that women replied more posi-
tively to friendship requests from a man shown in a
photo holding a guitar. These results of fer initial sup-
port for the sexual selection theory of music.
music, sexual selection, facebook, attractiveness
From the dawn of mankind, music has accompanied
humans. The earliest instrument that was found
is an ancient f lute dating back 40,000 years ago
(Adler, 2009). Not on ly d id musi c arise early
in mankind’s prehistor y, it arises early in the
development of infants. Musical predispositions
can be found in the rst months of an infant’s life
(Trehub, 2001), suggesting their innate nature. In
fact, some features in musicality have distinct brain
localizations (reviewed by Peretz, 2006) and even
a genetic basis (Stewar t & Walsh, 20 02). Music
is also a cultural universal (Nettl, 2005), highly
prevalent in different cultures and within cultures.
Behavioral phenomena like music that (1) appeared
early in prehistor y, (2) are apparent in infants,
(3) present brain localization, (4) have a genetic
basis and (5) show cross-cultural patterns, warrant
evolutionary explanations (Miller, 2000; Schmitt &
There is a debate regarding the evolutionary
adaptive function of music. Pinker (1997) argues
that music does not have an adaptive function,
and it is only a byproduct of the natural selection
of language capacities. Some suggest that music
serves as a coalition signaling system (Hagen &
Bryant, 2003; Merker, 2000), while others suggest
that it is lin ked to mother-child bonding ( Falk,
2004; Trehub, 2003). Another well-known theory
is Miller’s (2000) sexual selection theory of music,
attestin g that human musicality was sele cted
through sexual selection.
The idea that music may serve as a sexual
signal in mate choice dates back to Darwin (1871)
who suggested that:
All the s e fac t s with resp e c t to music and
impassioned speech become intelligible to a certain
extent, if we may assume that musical tones and
rhythm were used by our half−human ancestors,
during the season of courtship, when animals of all
kinds are excited not only by love, but by the strong
passions of jealousy, rivalry, and triumph. (Darwin,
1871, p. 880)
Miller (2000) argues that music is a biological
adaptation used by males to signal quality. Musical
abilit y may ma ke a n ind ividual attractive by
sign aling that the individual has (1) a genetic
advantage, such as f ine motor skills or a high
capacity to learn, or (2) the necessary resources
needed to master an instrument (Miller, 2000).
Musical ability may also signal higher prenata l
testosterone, as suggested in a study comparing
ma le music i a ns wit h the genera l popu lat ion
(Sluming & Manning, 2000). While Miller’s (2000)
clai m that music is used i n sex ual selection is
prevalent and widely reviewed, it has very little
empirical evidence in humans (Fitch, 2006).
In order to test Miller’s (2000) sexual selection
theory of music, we conducted an online experiment
using facebook as a mating setting. We hypothesized
that a facebook profile photo of a man holding a
guitar would receive more positive responses from
young single women in comparison to a facebook
prole of the same man without a guitar.
100 females listed as members of student facebook
groups in Israel (Tel-Aviv University and Ben
Gurion University) who were identi fied in their
facebook status as single. The mean age as reported
on the facebook proles was 24.4 (SD = 1.7).
In an experiment, two identical facebook profiles
Tifferet et al. LEBS Vol. 3 No.1 (2012) 4-6.
Guitar increases attractiveness
were created. One was accompanied by a photo
of a smi l i ng y oung ma n hold i ng a guitar; the
second showed the same man without the guitar
(see F i g u re 1 ). A f r iends hip request was sent
from each profile to 50 different women with the
accompanying text: “Hey, what’s up? I like your
photo.” Responses were categorized into positive
(“I like yours too”) or negative (“I have a boyfriend”
or no response). Twenty friendship requests were
sent every day for ve consecutive days (so that the
facebook account will not be shut off). If a response
was not received after a week, it was considered
as a negative response. At the end of the study
participants who responded positively received a
letter of explanation.
While only ve of the fty women (10%) responded
positively to the friendship request that was sent
by the prole without a guitar, 14 of the 50 women
(28%) responded positively to the friendship request
that was sent by the prole with a guitar (p = .03,
Fisher’s exact test).
The objective of this research was to check whether
women find men holding a guitar more attractive
than men wi t hout one . Alt h o u g h the sexual
selection theory of music is well-known, there is
very little empirical evidence for it in humans.
Usi ng a sample of Israeli female students who
identi fied themselves as single in their facebook
prole, we found that positive responses were more
prevalent to friendship requests of a man holding a
guitar. This nding is especially compelling since it
was conducted outside of a laboratory in a real-life
(albeit online) situation; therefore the participants
were not aware at rst of participating in a study.
These results support the hypothesis that men who
play a musical instrument are perceived as more
attractive, and provide initial support for the sexual
selection theory of music. It should be noted that
proposing that music has a role in sexual selection
does not mean that it does not have add itional
functions. Once selected for one function, musical
displays may have come to play multiple adaptive
Several questions are raised by this analysis.
First, we tested only women’s reactions to apparent
musical ability in men. While some signals are
considered attractive by both males and females
(e.g., facial symmetry; Rhodes, 2006), others show
sex differentiation (e.g., status; Buss, 1989). It would
be interesting to see whether musical displays are
simila rly attractive i n both males a nd fema les,
or whether they are especially valued in men. In
most avian species, only males sing (Brenowitz,
Margoliash, & Nordeen, 1997). However, in some
species, females do attract males through singing
as well (Ga ramszegi, Pavlova, Eens, & Moller,
2007). With some exceptions (Fitch, 2006), singing
is more prevalent in males in other species, but not
so in humans (Hauser & McDermott, 2003). In most
human cultures, musicality is not limited to males
and may have served a function in mother-child
bonding (Cross, 2007).
Second, it would be interesting to test whether
the attractiveness of male musicians is li mited
to short-term relations, or extends to long-term
relations as well. If musical ability mainly signals
that a man has good genes, we would pred ict a
greater effect in the case of short-term relations (Li
& Kenrick, 2006). The effect may also be restricted
to cer tai n men. The specific man in this study
seems to have masculine features (see Figure 1)
which may be ‘softened’ by the guitar. Perhaps the
guitar effect would not be as pronounced with a
more feminine looking man.
In light of the sexual selection theory of
music, we hypot hes ized that a ma n hold ing a
guitar would signal his quality by advertising his
genetic capabilities or his resources (Miller, 2000).
Exhibiting the possibility to enjoy leisure time has
long been recognized as a symbol of higher status
(e.g., Veblen, 1899), therefore holding a guitar can
imply that a man has the necessary resources to
allocate time to music. However, holding a guitar
may have increased attractiveness due to other
reasons. The presence of the guitar may have made
the man in the photo more attractive not because
Figure 1. Facebook prole photos for exper iment al and control group
Tifferet et al. LEBS Vol. 3 No.1 (2012) 4-6.
Guitar increases attractiveness
it represented musical ability, but simply because
it offered more data on an anonymou s p erson .
Future studies, therefore, should investigate the
effect of photos showing other items including other
instruments. Finally, the study results are also
limited at present to Israeli female students. The
results should be replicated, especially in natural
fertility cultures. It is also worth noting that results
obtained in a facebook study may not necessarily
reect off-line interactions.
In sum, we showed that in the facebook realm,
men who hold a guitar in their profile photo are
perceived as more attractive. These novel results
provide in itial support for the sexual selection
theory of music and w ill hop eful ly s t i mulate
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