Novi Sutanto, budding psychologist and hopeless romantic, shares her thoughts on the psychology of music and love.
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent”
– Victor Hugo
Have you ever wondered why you like the music that you like?
Have you found yourself being attracted to someone because of the music that they like?
Have you pined over a musician?
What kind of music do you listen to when you are sad?
And what kind of music do you listen to when you’re in love?
Have you ever felt like suddenly giving your date a kiss in the middle of a concert or a dimly-lit bar when a song you recognize starts playing?
These are the questions that led me to my masters degree thesis.
The idea of writing a thesis on the two most fascinating and important topics in my life was exciting when it first came to me. And the more I thought about it, and began to talk to people about it, the more it became clear to me that this was a topic that most everyone had at least thought about, wanted to know more about, or wanted to offer their opinion.
Music is everywhere. We first heard it, perhaps, in our mother’s womb. And later, put to slumber by our caretaker’s lullabies. We learn how to read through singing the alphabets. We hum, nod, tap our feet, often unconsciously, to a song we hear in the coffee shop, supermarkets, sung by buskers on the street.
No one can deny the power of music, nor do we want to. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata can bring a baby to tears. Music teaches us how to feel before we can even understand what feeling is. Some people can be so emotionally impacted by music, they choose to avoid listening to it altogether. In his book “Musicophilia” (2007), Oliver Sack offered a story of Freud being “indifferent” to music, of possibly despising it, or perhaps, more accurately, of him being so vulnerable to it that he avoided it for fear of its power in “clouding his mind”.
Music has the power to move us, physically and emotionally. Music can bring us back to the day of our first kiss in a split second. Music can make the person in front of us appear more attractive (and it can also do the opposite).
In my search for answers to the above questions, a few things stood out.
You may want to pay attention to these.
Research has found that music can, not only, be used to express our feelings to a potential partner, but also, unconsciously influence how we feel about them.
- Music evokes emotions which can motivate romantic behaviors.
There is scientific evidence that showed people rate their conversation partners as more desirable when romantic music is played in the background. With romantic music playing in the background, people are also more likely to give out their phone numbers to strangers, purchase more flowers in a flower shop, and rate a photograph of a stranger as more attractive. Certain music was also found to objectively impact sexual arousal in men.
- The music we listen to influences the type of people we are attracted to.
Stereotypes exist on many platforms, including music. Studies found that people who like classical music are perceived to be “sophisticated” and “educated”, whilst people who like heavy metal are less so. We are also more likely to be attracted to those who like similar music as we associate them to the same qualities and values as the ones we possess. A recent study found that people who like a variety of musical genres are also more likely to be open-minded, therefore, may be more outgoing and engaging in conversations.
- Engaging in joint musical activities fosters connection.
Research found that neurohormonal changes happen when we engage in joint musical activities. Our brain produces oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphin, when we dance or sing together, facilitating instant connection to the person we are with.
4. Lyrical content influences our expectations and accepted behaviors (norms) in romantic relationships.
Some studies revealed a trend in the lyrical content of love songs in the last five decades, which is correlated with a shift in attitudes and behaviors in young adults on sexual norms. There’s a correlation between people’s sexual behaviors, perception of monogamous relationships, expectations of heartbreaks, gender roles, and their listening habits (musical preference and music-related lifestyle).
Have you ever given a thought to how your beliefs about love may be influenced by the music you listen to?
If music be the food of love, play on – William Shakespeare
In truth, we may never fully understand why music holds so much power (or not) on our emotions and physical responses. Perhaps music is one of life’s mysteries which makes the human experience all the more fascinating and enriching. Something that science can yet explain.
In the mean time…
Marvel in the magic of music.
Create a playlist for your crush, watch their reaction as they listen to it.
Take them to a gig. Dance, sing, or talk about why you like the music you like and invite them into your inner world by sharing the music that moves you.
Be curious and ask them to share their music with you.
Words by Novi Sutanto, Provisional Psychologist (and a hopeless romantic). Image courtesy of Gavin Whitner, https://musicoomph.com/