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.
Side note: This “stranger approaching you on the street” technique is a relatively common method used to study initial attraction. The idea here is that participants don’t even know they are part of the study, which should make their responses more natural.
This same man made this same request to every woman he approached. The only thing that differed was that 1/3rd of the time he was holding a black acoustic guitar case, 1/3rd of the time he held a “large black sports bag” (to hold athletic gear), and the remaining 1/3rd of the time he wasn’t holding anything (control condition). Women complied to his request by offering their phone numbers 31% of the time when he held a guitar case, which was significantly higher than the 9% in the sports bag condition and 15% in the control condition (which did not differ from one another).
Clearly the man was more successful in collecting women’s phone numbers when he was carrying a guitar case. However, the researchers didn’t test why guitars (or more precisely, guitar cases) increase women’s likelihood of giving their phone numbers to an attractive stranger. The authors speculate that the guitar case might signal intelligence or hard work, and might represent financial success and high status (you know, because guitars are expensive). It is also possible that guitars signify physical abilities, which indicate genetic fitness, but this explanation doesn’t make as much sense because a sports bag, which should also be related to physical activity, didn’t have the same benefits.
Recently, we wrote about the importance of replication in science; you may ask how these results square with other studies. A second independent group of researchers in Israel report the results of a similar study in a different journal article.2 In their study, a Facebook profile was created, with the profile picture either showing a man with a guitar, or the same man without a guitar (include these pictures); the profiles were otherwise identical. The researchers attempted to “friend” 100 single women with either the guitar playing profile or the non-guitar playing profile. Similar to the results of the study in France, in this Facebook study, 28% of the women accepted the friend request from the guitar player, but only 10% friended the guitar-less man.
Both of these studies demonstrate a reliable and robust effect of guitars on different aspects of relationship initiation (i.e., women giving out their phone numbers for a date and accepting Facebook friendship), but neither provides conclusive support for why this difference occurs. Does a guitar make a man appear to be more physically attractive? Or is it a sign of other attractive attributes, like creativity, intelligence, or wealth?* Also, is the benefit of a guitar, or any musical instrument, only afforded to males? Do men similarly find women slinging a guitar to be more attractive?
For now, although we don’t know why it works, we do know that men would benefit from keeping that guitar nearby when looking for dates.
*The wealth explanation is a bit hard to swallow, given the stereotype of the guitar player as a poor, grungy fellow that is crashing on his friends’ sofas and mooching beer from their fridge.
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1Guéguen, N., Meineri, S., Fischer-Lokou, J. (in press). Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context. Psychology of Music.
2Tifferet, S., Gaziel, O., Baram, Y. (2012). Guitar increases male Facebook attractiveness. Preliminary support for the sexual selection theory of music. Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, 3, 4-6.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships. His is also an avid guitar player, so he has a vested interest in these two studies.