Jesse Bering, evolutionary psychologist and Scientific American blogger, recently posted a sardonic and potentially enlightening contribution to that question. "Listen Carefully: The Evolutionary Secret To Making a Hit Record" (08/30/11) discusses how "across music genres, the more 'embedded reproductive messages' [i.e. courtship, sex, procreation] a given song contained, the more likely it was to have become a smash hit." That is, "Country songs averaged 5.96 reproductive messages per song, Pop had 8.69, and R&B a whopping 16.77 per song. For all genres, however, and across a sixty-year history of the Billboard charts, the sheer number of reproductive messages in a song was meaningfully linked to that song's commercial success," even when controlling for the singer's popularity and skill.
Similarly, he reports that research analyzing newspapers in multiple cultures from the past three centuries shows consistently that:
[T]he hallmark of sensational news — what makes something particularly alluring to any readership — is its relevance to reproductive success in the ancestral past. Most high-profile, front-page stories dealt with things such as altruism, reputation, cheaters, violence, sex, and the treatment of offspring. In other words, argued these scientists, what whets our appetites in the social domain today are the very same gossipy topics of conversation that the first humans were probably gabbing about 150,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa.
The blog post includes a handy list of the 19 categories of "embedded reproductive messages" tracked and analyzed in the study. Writers of romance, you may wish to refer to it. ;-) They're almost like prompts, assuming that you have a preferred couple to which to apply them.
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