Classical music makes women more attracted to men, perhaps because they mistake their enjoyment of the melody for a spark of romance.

London - It might explain the smouldering looks that pass between couples in period dramas.

Men appear more handsome to women when stirring classical music is playing in the background, psychologists have found.

The discovery suggests it is no coincidence that love blossoms between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet to the strains of a piano playing in a country house in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Classical music makes women more attracted to men, perhaps because they mistake their enjoyment of the melody for a spark of romance, the study found. Researchers played classical music by composers including Schubert and Chopin to 64 women while showing them photographs of male faces.

The men varied in handsomeness, ranging from unattractive to good looking, but the females were more likely to want to date them when the 19th century piano music was playing in the background. The more stirring the music, the greater the attraction. Researchers at the University of Vienna, who conducted the study, reference Charles Darwin’s view that music, like birdsong in our animal cousins, may play a role in human courtship.

Writing in the journal PLOS One, they state: "In light of Darwin’s theory, these results generally support the idea that the experience of music may play a role in women’s social behaviour in a mating context, and especially that high-arousing (i.e more complex) music affects the perception of male facial attractiveness and dating desirability." 

Men are not affected by classical music in the same way, according to the findings of part of the experiment showing 32 men photographs of women.

Like women, they were asked to rate whether they would like to date each person pictured, both while the classical music was playing and in silence.

Professor Helmut Leder, a co-author of the study from the University of Vienna, said: "Facial attractiveness is one of the most important physical characteristics that can influence the choice of a partner. We wanted to find out how music can alter the perception of this feature."