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Meet Fiona Papile: Anthropology Freshman Researching Socio-Sexual Orientation Through Music

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Cal Poly chapter.

Anthropology freshman Fiona Papile is one student who truly embodies Cal Poly’s “learn by doing” motto. We sat down with Papile to learn about a current research project being conducted by Cal Poly students.

This research project is lead by Dr. Stacey Rucas, a Cal Poly anthropology professor, who has been conducting research projects every year. The project aims to find the correlation between music lyrics from the past 60 years and the sex-ratio of the US Population, as well as the socio-sexual orientation inventory. Socio-sexual orientation refers to our outlook on sex and relationships. It takes into account themes of competition and long-term vs short-term relationship goals. The final results from this research project will be presented at the California Workshop on Evolutionary Social Sciences in Fullerton, California. At this convention, Cal Poly students will be the only group of undergrad participants.

This research project has two main aspects: a survey analysis and a lyric analysis of songs. For the survey, the team of 11 students asked questions to determine people’s favorite songs in each genre as well as their sexuality and traits to determine if people corresponded with the “dark triad” which includes psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.

From the results, they will create graphs to present at the conference. The second division of the project is extremely extensive. The team has combed through 1,725 songs from top 100 Billboard lists from the years 1950-2018! Each song was read and analyzed by the students, which was countless hours of hard work. The students assigned codes to each song to indicate if there were themes of love phases, competitive strategies, and reproductive messages. Then, they entered their data into the Coding Analysis Toolkit (CAT) in order to see trends.

It’s fascinating how the sex ratio of the U.S. population and the socio-economic environment can change how someone reacts to music and what kind of music is produced. The research conducted supported the evolutionary theory that if you grow up in a stressful environment, you will favor short term mating strategies.

Fiona found that in her research of the time periods 1985-1987 and 2002-2009, the explicitness of sexual messages changed. With time, we have adopted a more direct and crude way of referring to sex and relationships. She also remarked that the songs from the earlier period (~1950s) are less lyrically dense and that they struggled to find overt reproductive messages at all, which shows how lyrics have evolved and have become more complex.

It’s inspiring to see what fascinating work is being done right on our campus. It’s also great that we have opportunities for students of all experiences to jump into real world work and work alongside experts. You never know what kind of interests people have until you ask. So we challenge you to go out and learn about someone else’s passion. Who knows — maybe it’ll become yours too. 



Wendy McCullough is a fourth year English major and Graphic Communications minor at Cal Poly SLO. She is the campus correspondent of the Her Campus Cal Poly chapter. Wendy is pursuing a career in publishing and design. When she isn't writing for Her Campus, she's surfing, hiking, jamming on guitar, and watching cheesy romcoms.