LEIPZIG, Germany — Many of us routinely turn on certain songs when getting intimate with a partner, and it turns out there’s some science behind it. Music that arouses our eardrums also tickles our tactile senses and enhances the feeling of one’s touch, a new study finds.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany conducted a series of experiments in which participants listened to music, as a robot simultaneously and discreetly stroked their forearm.
Participants’ reactions demonstrated that “sexy” music — all tunes were rated on a sliding scale as to the level of arousal they evoked (from “not at all sexy” to “extremely sexy”) — was linked to increased tactile arousal, regardless of whether one expected to be touched by a machine as opposed to an attractive human.
Beyond exposing the indiscriminate effects of touch, robots were partly used to help administer an even and consistent touch to all participants.
“Music seems to change our perception of touch. Certain features seem to be transferred from music to touch,” says lead researcher Tom Fritz in a press release. “We have observed that the sexier we perceive music, the sexier we also perceive touch that is administered simultaneously.”
As for explanations for their findings, the researchers believe that the same emotional mechanisms that govern how we perceive auditory inputs affect how we perceive touch (e.g., aggressive music would be interpreted much like aggressive touch).
Furthermore, music prompts us to use regions of the brain related to both touch and movement, Fritz explains.
Previous research has found that humans show a preference for brighter, more vibrant colors when music is played at loud decibels, demonstrating that listening to our favorite tracks can trigger other senses.
Music’s relation to touch may have even played an enormous role in our social evolution as a species, Fritz argues, as preference in song may have led certain individuals to mate with one another.
These findings contradict the opinions of some researchers, such as famed cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, who has proclaimed music to be “auditory cheesecake (i.e., it is merely entertainment with no evolutionary role that was developed as a byproduct of language).
The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.