Sexy science: Why music really is the way to a woman's heart

Why are male rock bands so attractive to the opposite sex? It could be that musical ability is an advertisement of health and fertility

I KNOW this guy, Ben. He's cute, but he's a little bloke and certainly not what you'd call a madly gorgeous stud. But Ben is a big hit with women, lots of women. Ben can, and often does, get off with a different lady every night, sometimes more than one. So now you're either thinking "what a total cad" (to put it mildly), or you're thinking "what's this guy's secret?"

The secret is he's a rock singer. Music can evoke many powerful emotions, one of which is often desire; a fact not lost on thousands of teenage girls who have screamed and sobbed their hearts out variously at the boys from the Beatles, the Bay City Rollers (!), Take That, McFly etc…

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But why do we find musicians and singers so attractive? Looking at things from a biological point of view, we would normally expect women to be attracted to men with qualities that indicate good genes that can be passed on to her children or those that show he can look after a family, like a wad of cash for instance. Music doesn't seem to serve any practical purpose.

Musical ability, along with other creative skills, are rather like a human version of the peacock's tail; something that has no survival value, but has evolved precisely because it is found attractive by the opposite sex. That's according to Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico and author of The Mating Mind.

Miller proposes that back through the mists of evolutionary time, those of our male ancestors who were a bit more witty, could daub a bison on the cave wall or perhaps hum a nice tune got more mates, and over time creative abilities evolved as the men who were most artistic or musical had more children. At the same time, the preference for these abilities evolved and over the millennia our brains expanded to accommodate our growing creativity. Meanwhile, he says, women too were evolving creative abilities, because the ones that could entertain their men could keep them around to help raise the kids.

The initial preference for creativity could have come from the fact that only a high-quality man could have the time to spend on creating great music or nice pictures – the rest would be too busy just surviving to think about knocking out a hit single.

There could be another explanation for this weird affliction, according to John Manning of University of Central Lancashire. He thinks musical ability is an advertisement of male health and fertility, and that's why great musicians are so sexy.

It has been suggested, says Manning, that high testosterone exposure during gestation promotes the development of parts of the right side of the brain where musical ability resides. Manning has also produced evidence to suggest that exposure to high foetal testosterone levels leads to men who are, on average, healthier and more athletic than others, and have a higher sperm count.

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In short, he says, men who make lots of good music make lots of sperm.

If men can advertise their prowess through music then we'd expect a lot more men than women to be making it. Manning points out that in a sample of more than 7,000 jazz, rock and classical albums, there were ten times as many male as female musicians.

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Classical orchestras also show a preponderance of male musicians, but when Manning and a colleague looked at the gender ratio of the audience it was a different story. Those sitting closest to the orchestra during performances were much more likely to be female than male, lending support to the idea that the music might be serving some mate advertising function.

So if, like me, you are planning a trip to something classical at the Edinburgh Festival this year, look out for those ladies in the front row. Are they considering the complexities of baroque or have they got something much more basic on their minds?

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