New research sheds light on the relationship between guitar skills in extreme metal music, mating success, and male competition. The study, focusing on male heterosexual guitar players, reveals intriguing connections between the time spent practicing certain guitar techniques and the psychological aspects of mating motivation and intrasexual competition, challenging traditional notions of artistic displays in human courtship and social status. The findings have been published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.
“I have always been interested in evolutionary perspectives on music,” said study author Tara DeLecce, a postdoctoral researcher and special lecturer at Oakland University, and lead editor of The Oxford Handbook of Infidelity.
One of the most popular hypotheses on the adaptive function of music (if there is one) is that being able to create music increases one’s attractiveness as a mate, which would explain popular trends among musicians such as why, on average, men have historically created music more often than women (heterosexual men are typically more competitive in mating contexts) and that the age of peak music production tends to be in the mid-20s (when mating competition is typically at its highest).
“However, trends within metal music, and especially the genre of extreme metal music with basically virtuoso-level guitar skills, conflict with this hypothesis. Those who enjoy extreme metal and those who produce it are statistically more likely to be male. These dynamics do not seem to be useful for purposes related to heterosexual mating.
“Therefore, I wanted to explore the possibility of an adaptive function of extreme metal music and explain heavy investment in learning complex, technical guitar skills in this genre,” DeLecce explained. “Oh, and a little bit of it is because I also am a huge fan of extreme metal music and used to play guitar in metal bands.”
To delve into this intriguing topic, the researchers conducted an online survey with 328 initial participants, eventually narrowed down to 44 heterosexual male guitarists who were fans of metal music. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 47 years, with the majority being from the United States and Poland. The majority were single, had a bachelor’s degree, and identified themselves as middle-class – a demographic representation typical of the two most represented countries.
The study employed several measures to assess different aspects of the participants’ lives and guitar playing habits. This included the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory Revised, which evaluates attitudes, behaviors, and desires regarding casual sex, and the Intrasexual Competition Scale, a measure of competitiveness towards individuals of the same sex. In addition, an open-ended question asked participants about their lifetime number of sexual partners.
Understanding the guitar playing habits of participants was crucial for this study. To this end, the researchers developed the Guitar Practicing Habits Inventory. This custom survey focused on various aspects of guitar playing, such as the amount of time spent practicing, the proportion of time devoted to practicing chords versus single-note exercises, the technicality of playing, and the perceived speed compared to other guitarists. Participants were also asked about the maximum tempo at which they could play cleanly, providing a quantitative measure of their technical proficiency.
To understand the participants’ music preferences, they were asked to rate their liking for a traditional heavy metal song (“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath) and a more technical extreme metal song (“Shards of Scorched Earth” by Rings of Saturn). This helped gauge the style of metal they preferred and potentially played.
The researchers found a positive correlation between the time spent playing guitar chords and the desire facet of the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory Revised. This suggests that guitarists who devote more time to playing chords are more motivated towards casual sex. However, when the researchers conducted a multiple regression analysis to see if guitar-practicing habits could predict the number of lifetime sexual partners, the overall model did not show a significant result.
The findings highlight a potential distinction between mating motivation and actual mating success. While time spent playing chords was linked to a higher desire for casual sex, this did not necessarily translate into a higher number of sexual partners. This discrepancy suggests that while guitar skills might enhance a musician’s mating motivation, they don’t always lead to greater mating success.
One of the most significant findings was that the speed of guitar playing was a significant predictor of intrasexual competition. This indicates that guitarists who perceive themselves as playing faster than their peers tend to have higher levels of intrasexual competitiveness. Moreover, this fast-playing speed was specifically linked to the superiority enjoyment aspect of intrasexual competition, suggesting that these guitarists derive pleasure from feeling superior in their skill compared to other male guitarists.
These findings contribute to the broader understanding of the role of creative displays in human social and sexual behavior. They suggest that in the specific context of extreme metal music, guitar playing might be more about asserting dominance and status among male peers, rather than directly influencing mating success. This aligns with the idea that cultural displays, like music and art, can serve multiple social functions, including status elevation within a peer group, rather than being solely about attracting romantic partners.
“Heterosexual men who play extreme metal guitar do not seem to be doing it to attract women, as has been suspected about musicians of other genres,” DeLecce told PsyPost. “Instead, it seems they are trying to impress and/or intimidate other heterosexual men with their skills.”
While the study sheds light on some fascinating aspects of human behavior and cultural displays, it comes with its limitations. The small sample size and the focus on a niche music genre mean that the findings might not be broadly applicable. Additionally, the study mainly captured hobbyist musicians rather than professional guitarists, which could influence the results. Furthermore, the informal and undocumented nature of learning metal guitar adds another layer of complexity in understanding the effort and training involved.
Looking ahead, the researchers suggest that future studies should aim for a larger sample size, possibly focusing on professional extreme metal guitarists. An experimental approach, manipulating the audience composition and observing the choice of music played, could provide further insights into whether the guitar playing is driven by a desire to impress a specific audience.
“There are definitely caveats to this study,” DeLecce said. “In an ideal world we would have liked a sample of professional extreme metal guitarists all signed to record labels. However, we didn’t have the funding to recruit a large sample, let alone a sample of professionals, so we just recruited via internet forums. As a result, the study may be more representative of guitarists who play extreme metal as a hobby rather than those who do it as a career (and thus their motivations may differ). It is also important to note that this was an exploratory study, so far more additional research is required before any firm conclusions about motivations to play extreme metal guitar can be made. ”
“I do want to make it clear that we did not purposely exclude women from the study,” DeLecce added. “Unfortunately, our recruiting efforts yielded only one female extreme metal guitarist, which isn’t enough to meaningfully represent this population.”
The study, “Extreme metal guitar skill: A case of male-male status seeking, mate attraction, or byproduct?“, was authored by Tara DeLecce, Farid Pazhoohi, Anna Szala, and Todd K. Shackelford.