Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Women Prefer Complex Composers..."

I haven't posted about the latest scientific research in a while. Benjamin Charlton of the University of Sussex in Great Britain has some great news for the "complex composers" among us: you have an excellent chance of getting lucky this weekend! No really. The whole title of the study is this:

Menstrual cycle phase alters women's sexual preferences for composers of more complex music

And the abstract explains as follows:
Two-alternative forced-choice experiments revealed that woman only preferred composers of more complex music as short-term sexual partners when conception risk was highest. No preferences were displayed when women chose which composer they would prefer as a long-term partner in a committed relationship, and control experiments failed to reveal an effect of conception risk on women's preferences for visual artists. These results suggest that women may acquire genetic benefits for offspring by selecting musicians able to create more complex music as sexual partners, and provide compelling support for Darwin's assertion ‘that musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male or female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex’.
Here is a link to the study and here is a journalist's report. You might think that we are talking about the sexual attractiveness of the Elliot Carters among us, but it turns out that the study's idea of "complexity" is pretty simple:
the women listened to four versions of two different piano melodies, each increasing in complexity. For example, at level one, both compositions used only two chords, but by level four, they turned into a seven-chord mini-opuses with syncopation.
We may be talking about "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" with or without added sevenths and quarter note syncopation.

The trouble with the reporting on this study is it never quite gives the reader enough information to decide just how loony the study really was. I don't know about anyone else, but I sure didn't pick up the guitar to get more dates with girls. I think it was more to have something to do while not getting dates!



Bridge said...

A seven chord mini-opus with syncopation??? Quick, somebody call Ferneyhough, he'll be all over this.

In all seriousness, the study is subscription-only so I don't even have a chance to humor it. But the journalist report sure draws some unfounded conclusions from the study, doesn't it?

Bryan Townsend said...

I thought this one would amuse you!

Don't you think the "unfounded" part starts with the study itself, though? He says, "I provide the first, to my knowledge, empirical support for the sexual selection hypothesis of music evolution by showing that women have sexual preferences during peak conception times for men that are able to create more complex music."

Bridge said...

Indeed, though I want to give the study some benefit of the doubt as I'm not fully acquainted with it. The reporter just flat out says that it's true, though.

Rickard Dahl said...

Pseudoscience at best, waste of time and resources on something completely irrelevant and not useful to anyone at worst (although that could be a kind of definition of pseudoscience). What's the point even if it's true? And their idea of complexity is laughable, they could have chosen Cage, Carter, Stockhausen, Babbit etc. Or how about have them listen to a tone row "melody"?

Bryan Townsend said...

"Women go crazy for guys who write polyrhythms--or use hexachordal combinatoriality!" It's like a musical version of "girls go for guys who know math."

Some of this pseudo-science is just annoying, but this one is amusing.