Love songs linked to receptiveness to romance

A new study from — where else? — France suggests listening to love songs may increase women’s receptivity to amorous advances.

Ladies: Have you ever given your phone number to a guy in a bar or bistro and then wondered why on earth you did? Sure, your inebriation level probably played a role, but new research suggests you may have acted under the influence of yet another powerful mood-enhancer: that romantic music playing in the background.

That’s the conclusion of a study titled “Love is in the Air,” just published in the journal Psychology of Music. Lead author Nicolas Guèguen, a professor of social behavior at the University of Bretagne-Sud in France, has published revealing research about courtship cues (a light touch by a man is apparently enticing) and the aural atmosphere in bars (loud music tends to increase alcohol consumption).

He puts the two subjects together in his latest paper and finds that music is indeed the food of love — or at least the appetizer.

Guèguen and his colleagues recruited 183 female undergraduates ages 18 to 20, all of whom reported they did not have a romantic partner. They took part in what they were told was a taste test of organic cookies.

Each participant sat alone in a waiting room for three minutes, while one of two songs played in the background: Francis Cabrel’s romantic ballad Je l’aime à mourir or Vincent Delerm’s non-romance-related L’Heure du the’. Cabrel’s recording had been chosen by a group of the participants’ peers as their favorite French love song.

(Cabrel’s poetic lyrics are tricky to translate, given the rough attempts to do so on several music-related websites, but it appears that in the song, a man equates his intense love for his woman with death. Sacre blèu!)

Following this lyrical interlude, the participant entered the experiment room, where she was greeted by a young man who was introduced as her test partner. (He was chosen for his average attractiveness, based on an earlier study in which 18 young women evaluated the looks of 12 young men.) Together, they spent five minutes tasting cookies baked with and without organic ingredients and discussing their reaction.

Afterwards, the man introduced himself, complimented the woman and asked for her phone number, so they could arrange to have a drink the following week. Among the women who had heard the romantic song, 52.2 percent gave out their number; of those who did not, only 27.9 percent complied with his request.

How did the music work its magic? There are at least two possibilities. The French researchers note that music can improve one’s mood, and being in a positive frame of mind can increase one’s receptivity to romance.

Alternatively, “the romantic song lyrics acted as a prime that, in turn, led to the display of behavior associated with that prime,” they write. Considerable research has found that music with antisocial lyrics increases aggressive thoughts, while music with pro-social lyrics triggers feelings of generosity. Guèguen and his colleagues suggest this sort of emotional prompting may also occur in the romantic arena.

This is a single study, of course, and confirmation will require larger studies featuring diverse groups of participants and a variety of songs. (American researchers: Get out those Barry White CDs!) And of course, it’ll be interesting to determine what kinds of music inspire young men to pursue young women.

Tom Jacobs | June 15, 2010