We don’t need science to know that creativity is sexy. Mick Jagger’s number proves that point. As do anecdotes from everyone’s lives about far lesser musicians than the Rolling Stones. In one recent study—conducted, of course, in France—a male researcher solicited phone numbers from 300 random young women on the street. He got more digits when carrying a guitar case than when carrying a gym bag or nothing at all.
So, chicks dig musicians. To repeat: not exactly rocket science. But how do musicians stack up in the appeal department to, say, a programming whiz, or a stand-up comic, or an innovative chef? Past studies have linked originality to sexual attraction in a broad sense, but they haven’t placed creative endeavors side by side for comparison.
In a libidinal sense, are all creative behaviors created equal?
Not according to a new study of that very question published in the Journal of Creative Behavior. A research team led psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania reports that creative behaviors related to aesthetics (such as writing poetry, dancing, and, of course, playing music) have more sex appeal than those that fall under an applied-tech category (such as developing a website) or a more domestic sort of creativity (such as gardening or decorating).
Altogether, “creative displays that evoke perceptual, aesthetic, and emotional qualities in the perceiver are considered most sexually attractive by most humans,” writes Kaufman at his Scientific American blog, where he summarized the findings.
To investigate the sexual attractiveness of various forms of creativity, Kaufman and company recruited 815 study participants—predominantly young women (696). Participants completed a battery of online surveys related to creativity as well as their own personality. The critical survey listed 43 creative behaviors and asked participants to rate the sex appeal of each.
Here are 15 sexiest creative behaviors, as rated by female participants:
1. Playing sports
2. Taking a date on a spontaneous road trip
3. Recording music
4. Making a clever remark
5. Writing music
6. Performing in a band
7. Taking artistic photographs
8. Performing in comedy
9. Dressing in a unique style
10. Writing poetry
11. Inventing new recipes
12. Drawing pictures
13. Making sculptures
14. Writing short stories
15. Styling your hair in an interesting way
And here’s the bottom 15 (with lowest-ranking at the top):
1. Making clothes
2. Entering a science contest
3. Making ad campaigns
4. Interior decorating
5. Writing an original computer program
6. Making websites
7. Growing and gardening
8. Presenting scientific or mathematical papers
9. Exterior decorating
10. Applying math in an original way to solve a practical problem
11. Developing experimental designs
12. Participating in a drama production
13. Directing a short film
14. Participating in an orchestra
15. Event planning
The rankings for male participants—though based on fewer responses—were extremely (even surprisingly) similar. Many of the same behaviors found in the first list above made the men’s top 10, including playing sports, going on spontaneous road trips, recording music, making clever remarks, playing in a band, and dressing uniquely. And many of the bottom 10 behaviors were the same, too, including developing experimental designs, applying math in an original way, entering science contests, and writing computer programs.
Kaufman’s team found a pretty clear categorical split to the list. Behaviors falling under an umbrella of aesthetic creativity were at the very top, followed by those in the domestic-everyday realm, with creativity in the applied-technology arena coming third. After linking the attractiveness ratings to the personality surveys, they also found, generally speaking, that test participants were attracted to the sorts of creative behaviors they dabbled in themselves. If you wrote music, for instance, you found music-writing sexy.
The researchers took this as evidence of what’s called “assortative mating”: in simpler terms (and contra P. Abdul et al. (1989), likeness attracts.
There are a number of limitations to this work. One is evident just by looking at the sexiest creative behaviors on the list: not everyone would agree that something like “playing sports” is a creative behavior at all. Sure, you can play sports in a creative manner, a la Magic Johnson, but athleticism in its own right isn’t inherently creative. The same could be said for taking spontaneous road trips, presenting a scientific paper, and arguably other items on the list.
Another big caveat is the test participant pool. Aside from being overwhelmingly female, the sample was also quite young—24 years old, on average. That means participants might differ from the general population in some critical ways: emphasizing short-term sexual goals over long-term mating goals, for instance, hence seeing a young man on the street with a guitar case as more attractive than a young programmer writing code until the break of dawn.
But it’s also worth noting that the authors clearly didn’t have a personal stake in the findings: “writing journal articles” fell roughly in middle of the pack, though closer to the least sexy end of the list.