Sexy Creativity

The abstract begins,

“Creativity is sexy, but are all creative behaviors equally sexy?”

The answer, of course, is, “Of course not.” Individuals have their preferences, and so do cultures and subcultures, and it could be that some creative endeavors are inherently, on a species level, sexier than others. But what do those trends look like?

Fortunately, science rides to the rescue with a study to identify, objectively and statistically, the sexiest creative things to do. Let’s hear it for Science!

A study published in November of 2014 with the cumbersome title “Who Finds Bill Gates Sexy? Creative Mate Preferences as a Function of Cognitive Ability, Personality, and Creative Achievement” has a go at rating categories of creative behaviors in terms of sexiness. As we’ll discuss another time, there are inherent problems with overtly asking people questions about sexuality, because people tend to have answers they think are more (politically or morally) correct, and often really have no idea what turns them on in practice. It is always best to look at actions instead of statements, but honestly there are times when that sort of thing just isn’t practical.

This is one of the fortunate instances in which people will have very little pressure to answer outside of their actual views.

For example, in a recent study a young male confederate carried a guitar, a sports bag, or nothing at all on a city street. He then solicited phone numbers from 300 young women. He received more phone numbers when he carried the guitar than in the other two conditions (Gueguen, Meineri & Fischer-Lokou, 2014).

I had read about this before, and found it very amusing. We might need to discuss what is it, exactly, about guitar players that gets such reliably positive responses, but for now we’ll leave it with the explanation and elaboration from the paper:

Feist argued that ornamental/aesthetic forms of creativity, such as those involved in art, music, and other aesthetic domains, were shaped primarily by sexual selection pressures, and therefore should be perceived as more sexually attractive than applied/technological displays of creativity [which were shaped more by survival/natural selection pressures].

Considering that ornamental/aesthetic aspects of creative  expression play on our evolved perceptual functions and evoke strong emotions in the perceiver, this could increase the chances for a sexual response. Therefore, according to this account, ornamental/aesthetic displays of creativity are predicted to be more sexually attractive than applied/technological displays of creativity.

In other words, one might well expect an artist to have more of a sexual draw than a scientist, at least on the short term.

Kaufman (et al) explain that exceptions obviously occur, and that people will often put such things as similarities in culture or appearance, physical attractiveness, intelligence, etc. in a higher priority than creative displays. They go on for some time in a scientific way of saying, “All else being equal…” to deflect all the nonsense that would get tossed around if they didn’t, and then get to answering the question.

The one thing that could not be ignored, however, is that men and women react differently to different sorts of creativity. This is worth noting, and remembering. Women are more affected by even the suggestion of it (such as carrying but not playing a guitar), for one thing, let alone the actuality, and the categories are weighted quite differently according to sex.

If you explore the linked .pdf of the study, you will see on pp.13 & 15 a couple of very interesting tables (one for women, one for men) that compare personality traits (“predictors”) and how they relate to aesthetic creativity, technological creativity, everyday creativity, and sexual activity. (By “everyday/domestic creativity” they mean activities like garden and interior decorating.) Those little blocks of data have a ton of useful information in them, and might get covered in a later article. They are practically a different topic!

Creativity Sexiness

Someone went to the trouble of putting the results into a bar graph for easy data digestion. Click on the miniature version here to see it in all its (readable) glory:


Though the results are completely unsurprising in a lot of ways (stereotypes often being, after all, truth repeated too often), some interesting distinctions can be seen. Orchestral musicianship is seen as sexier by men than by women; music band membership is seen as sexier than orchestral by both, but especially by women. Having a unique dress style gets equally high marks from both. The various categories of performance and visual arts are intriguing, as well. That physical activities rate high on sexiness isn’t very surprising (sex being a physical activity, after all); that a spontaneous road trip should be right at the highest ratings might be.

Naturally, all sorts of nonsense followed the release of the report, a lot of it more predictable than rock stars getting sexual interest. I don’t see the point of any of the hullabaloo, whether complaining about human nature or apologizing for it, and especially not of trying to spin it to make one’s self look good. Seriously, it’s nonsense. People like what they like, and they are not going to change – and the more one learns about the underlying reasons for these general preferences, the less reason one sees that changing it would be a good thing at all.

Far better to learn what works and make good use of it. Or at least, to be amused at the hilarious, charming, silly pageant that is humanity. At the Garden of Aphrodisia, we shall do both.

But you definitely knew that part already.

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Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.