Friday, April 03, 2009

How Big is your Pool?

Via Steve, two controlled studies showing that beautiful women make better musicians:

Both studies were designed similarly: auditions were videotaped and then judged by three groups of people. One group rated the video only, one audio only, and a third group the complete videotape. All the judges were music students or faculty. The studies did find that dressing well and knowing how to behave on stage will get you a better rating than you would receive based on the audio only, and that attractive male singers also benefit from their appearance. However, attractive female singers and attractive violinists did not receive any extra benefit from their good looks. They did receive better ratings on videotape than their uglier competition, but those were not unfair - they also got better ratings on audio only. So, attractive people really do sound better - except, apparently, male singers.

So why would a better-looking violinist sound better? One possible explanation is cross-assortative mating - talented male musicians impregnated attractive women so their children inherited both the looks and the talent.

"What's assortive mating?" my mom, whom I am visiting this week, asked me when I read this to her. (My mom is a musician and an accomplished pianist, which made childhood piano lessons inescapable!)

"Basically the idea that people don't choose their mating partners randomly, but rather that preferences are success are predictable."

"There's more to it than that. What if there are lots of women and only a few men? Here on the island [on which my parents now live], for instance."

"Men do pretty well here, eh?"

"Well, consider the example of X. He's lived on the island his whole life and works as a small charter boat captain. He's not wealthy: his house is small and he bought or inherited here when it was relatively cheap. Plus he has a drug problem. And he shacked up with an attractive twenty-something for ten years. They only broke up when their son reached school age. There are no schools on the island, and no reasonable way of getting to them, but X refused to move. He'd be lost in the outside world.

"Then there's Λ. Her parents live on the island, and she took a summer job waitressing here during college. She wound up marrying the short-order cook. It doesn't (or didn't) matter that as an environmental policy expert she makes ten times what he does. Or that he also has a drug problem. What matters is that when she was only a waitress, he was the cook!"

1 comment:

trumwill said...

I have two different thoughts on two aspects of this, but both probably warrant their own posts on HC.

So absent that, I will mention something interesting about my sister-in-law and her current (second) husband. She's not the easiest person to get close to, but she's nonetheless attractive, witty, and well-educated. She met and married her first husband at a large, pretty good state university. He was a doctor and a really formidable guy all-around. Her second husband is a dance instructor, fifteen years her senior with a kid of his own (she's anti-kid), crooked teeth, and limited English skills (she does not speak his native tongue). But they met in an impoverished place where I am willing to bet he was quite the catch.