Daily Bow: Are Musicians More Attractive Mates?


Did Music Evolve as a Means of Impressing Potential Mates?

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico recently proposed that the human capacity for music evolved as an aid to courtship. Unlike other adaptations such as remembering paths in the wilderness and coordinating hunting efforts, music-making has no obvious survival benefits. Miller follows Darwin’s reasoning that music and other artistic capacities did not evolve through natural selection (i. e. as aids to survival) but rather through sexual selection (i. e. as aids to reproduction). Over millions of years of human evolution, both women and men consistently chose mates who possessed the ability to make music, or at least to appreciate its appeal. His theory has far-reaching implications for research in musicology, and offers new means for musicians to understand their work in a historical context.

In The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin (1871) devoted ten pages to bird song and six pages to human music, viewing both as outcomes of an evolutionary process called sexual selection… This chapter has the simple goal of reviving Darwin’s original suggestions that human music must be studied as a biological adaptation, and that music was shaped by sexual selection to function mostly as a courtship display to attract sexual partners.  Fortunately, after a century of obscurity, Darwin’s theory of sexual selection itself has already undergone a renaissance in biology over the last two decades, so biology offers many new insights about courtship adaptations, which will be applied here to human music.

Consider Jimi Hendrix, for example. This rock guitarist extraordinaire died at the age of 27 in 1970, overdosing on the drugs he used to fire his musical imagination.  His music output, three studio albums and hundreds of live concerts, did him no survival favours.  But he did have sexual liaisons with hundreds of groupies, maintained parallel long-term relationships with at least two women, and fathered at least three children in the U.S., Germany, and Sweden.  Under ancestral conditions before birth control, he would have fathered many more.  Hendrix’s genes for musical talent probably doubled their frequency in a single generation, through the power of attracting opposite-sex admirers.

Miller, G. F. (2000). Evolution of human music through sexual selection. In N. L. Wallin, B. Merker, & S. Brown (Eds.), The origins of music (pp. 329-360). MIT Press.



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