Rewire Logo
A nonprofit journalism
website produced by:
Twin Cities PBS Logo

How to be Hot, According to Science

by Katie Moritz
September 26, 2017 | Love

You met online, had your first date—and it went well. Now you're in that precarious first stage of a relationship: there's potential, but there's also a lot that could go wrong.

If you've found yourself in that delicate wooing stage, you might want to spend some time crafting the perfect playlist for the first time they come over. It turns out there's real science behind setting the mood with music.

Music makes us hotter

Hot pbs rewire

We all know listening to music has an effect on our brains. But it's especially powerful when paired with attraction. Listening to music while looking at a potential partner can actually impact how you see them—even influencing how attractive you think they are.

In one experiment by researchers at the University of Vienna, straight women who listened to music before looking at men's faces said they were more attracted to them and interested in dating them than women who looked at the men without listening to music first. Highly stimulating and complex music had the greatest effect on the women.

They saw the men as more attractive because they were already emotionally stimulated by the music, a phenomenon known as arousal transfer, the researchers believe. It's something our brains do largely unconsciously but that can impact perception and decision-making.

We make emotional and psychological connections with music—to the point that it can affect the way we see the people around us. That might make you think twice about your music choices for that romantic dinner at home you're planning.

Scientific discovery with the help of a sexy robot

Music can also make touch feel more titillating.

A touch that would otherwise be unremarkable can turn sexy with the help of the right music, a research team at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, found. The sexier you find the music, the sexier you'll find a touch you get at the same time you're listening.

How did they discover this? Well, their setup involved an arm-stroking robot hidden behind a curtain. Of course.

People participating in the study put their forearm through a curtain where it was stroked by the robot. At the same time, they listened to music that varied in sexiness from "not sexy at all" to "extremely sexy."

Hot pbs rewire

Some participants believed they were being touched by a human (even though it was always the robot—sorry, guys). In that case, the sexiness of the music transferred into the touch. The participants found the touches more or less sexy based on the music they were listening to.

But even when the participants knew it was a robot touching them, they still interpreted the touch as more or less sexy based on the music that ways playing at the time. The human brain is a truly mysterious animal.

So, not only can music possibly alter what we see, but also what we feel. This could be because we process music and touch with similar parts of the brain, the researchers ventured.

Did we evolve to respond to music?

By its nature, music is a social experience, first created by humans making noises together in sync. It's used across the world in all kinds of formal and informal settings to foster community—think about the last dance party you participated in.

Some scientists (including Charles Darwin himself) believe there is an evolutionary purpose for music—which is perhaps why hearing it in the right moment can make us want to pair up with the person closest to us.

What are your favorite songs to set the mood? Let us know in the comments.

Katie Moritz
Katie Moritz was Rewire's senior editor from 2016-2019. She is a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores and pho. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.
Are you here? So are we!
Rewire LogoFor a better life and a brighter future
A nonprofit journalism website produced byTPT Logo
©2020 Twin Cities Public Television.Privacy PolicyTerms of Use