Sex & T & Rock ‘n’ Roll

Take a look around this site and you’ll see there aren’t many parts of the body not affected by testosterone. So much so that playing the board game ‘Operation’ recently, I found myself wondering if your man would even be in this mess if he’d looked after his T a bit better.

Admittedly there are still a few areas of your person we’ve not covered yet; but results of a new study now look set to cross another region off our testosterone bingo card. The ears.

This work explores how Test levels might influence what sounds good to our ears. In other words, how it helps to shape our musical taste.

The team report that guys with lower hormone levels tend to favour so-called highbrow genres such as jazz and classical music. While those with a greater volume prefer just that … they like their bands like they like their abs: rock hard.

Testing, testing 1, 2,3

For the study Hirokazu Doi and Kazuyuki Shinohara of Nagasaki University recruited 37 Japanese men and 39 women. These volunteers, most of whom were in their early 20s, first gave hormone readings to the researchers via saliva sample.

They were then played 15 second clips of 25 different musical styles. Participants listened and gave ratings ranging from ‘Don’t like at all’ to ‘Like very much.’

Instead of going for the labels you’d see on the racks at your local record store (rock, pop, jazz, country, alt-country, acid polka, funerial garage funk etc) the scientists chose to define their music segments in the same way as a 2011 study examining music taste.

The options were classed as: Mellow, Contemporary/Urban, Sophisticated, Intense, and Unpretentious.

Generally it was observed that men with higher T were less likely to enjoy ‘sophisticated’ types of music. These hormonally blessed fellas were much more excited by heavy rock tunes, which testers deemed unsophisticated.

(Yeah, because we’re sure the science department of Nagasaki University can bust out a perfect Hendrix solo in their sleep. But anyway…)

The key difference in these findings was that while hormone concentration appears to play a significant role in men’s choices, the same was not true of women. Hence the reason why these researchers believe testosterone may be pulling the (either electric guitar or violin) strings here.

Specifically how varying volumes of male hormone affect the emotional centres of the brain, such as the amygdala. In a statement announcing their findings they said,

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of the link between biological predisposition and musical preference.”

Back catalogue

This study may be testosterone’s first solo outing as far as affecting your music taste, but it’s been part of the band for a while.

As shown in a 2015 Cambridge University clinical trial, personality type has a big hand in our jukebox choices. Testosterone levels in turn are known to influence personality. So is it coincidence those with higher T, who lean towards risk taking and rebelliousness, gravitate towards harder music which is loud, brash and kicks against authority?

On the flip side of that same work, researchers also found that highly empathetic people – a character trait sometimes associated with lower T – favoured mellower tunes. Pop fans meanwhile were usually extroverts, which explains the shameless carnage that goes down the instant the Macarena hits.

This area probably needs more work before we can say for sure.  However studies continue to throw some pretty quirky results.

A poll by Britain’s Channel 4 for instance, recently found the song ‘No Diggity’ by Blackstreet is a particular favorite of psychopaths.

Presumably because ‘No diggity, you’ve got to bag it up’ is the perfect soundtrack for the bagging up of dismembered human limbs.

Closing the show

For the record, if you’re thinking of naturally upping your T, but like your iPod just fine as it is, don’t worry. As Urs Nater from the University of Vienna, Austria, points out,

“Testosterone is probably one tiny aspect of what music preference constitutes.”

So relax, naturally improving your performance, physique, health and happiness doesn’t come at the cost of a new CD collection. You’re not going to suddenly swap Mozart for Mötley Crüe just because you’re in better shape.

Remember this is just a single study so far. One which I’ve got my own questions for frankly.

First off, if all jazz fans have low T, explain those brutal Jazzercise classes. Secondly, if all guys with high T don’t like classical music, why does the most famous bodybuilder of them all, Arnold Schwarzenegger, give a random shout out to 19th century composer Johann Sebastian Bach in the middle of Terminator?

Answer me that, Hirokazu Doi and Kazuyuki Shinohara!

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