Here’s something that never happens: You’re at the gym, lifting some weights, doing some push-ups and examining yourself in the mirror. You pause mid-clench as some pulsating gym bro yells, “Yo, will someone turn up the Bach?”
Of course it doesn’t happen: Every bro knows that when you have testosterone coursing through your veins, the last thing you need is to hear something more challenging than a basic four-four time stomper. You just want to lift the bench press over your head and feel the sweet euphoria of a perfect pump ripple through your body, all while heavy metal pounds through your earbuds.
Now, though, science has an answer as to why. In a first-of-its-kind study from the University of Nagasaki, Japanese researchers found that men with higher testosterone levels are less likely to enjoy sophisticated music, such as classical and jazz. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of the link between biological predisposition and musical preference,” writes the research team, led by Hirokazu Doi and Kazuyuki Shinohara.
The participants were 37 Japanese males and 39 females, most in their early 20s, whose testosterone was measured using a saliva sample. They listened to 25 musical extracts, each about 15 seconds long, and rated each on a scale of “Like very much” to “Don’t like at all.” They discovered that, for men (but not women), higher testosterone concentration was associated with lower preference for sophisticated music.
While the researchers couldn’t draw any concrete conclusions as to why having more of the hormone would hinder one’s appreciation of Beethoven, they did offer an idea: “Many previous studies have indicated that testosterone functions to drive people to seek dominance,” they noted. “People exhibiting rebellious personality traits show strong preference for rebellious music such as hard rock, and an aversion to music genres such as jazz and classical.”
When I reach out to David M. Greenberg, a researcher at the University of Cambridge whose team has studied how musical preferences may be explained by differences in the brain, he explains that he isn’t surprised by the findings. “On average, males with lower testosterone are likely to prefer sophisticated styles of music because, in general, they’re less aggressive than other intense styles — like heavy metal music,” he says.
Greenberg adds that this research is an important next step in a field that will advance knowledge for music therapists, clinical psychologists and medical doctors. “The [Japanese] study is an initial first step into the biological underpinnings of musical preferences,” he says. “To date, most of the research has examined how psychosocial traits such as personality and values link to musical preferences. There have only been a handful that have looked at biological markers via brain scans — or in this case, salivary testosterone. The next step is to see if the finding replicates in other cultures.”
All of which is to say don’t expect to see swollen, high-T bros flexing their glutes in time with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony any time soon.