Opinion: You Are What You Listen To—The Link Between Music Taste And Personality

By Sian Last

Given the number of stereotypes surrounding music choice and personality, it has long been customarily accepted that there is a strong link between  the two.  However, there have been remarkably few psychological studies on the issue.

A study from the University of Texas at Austin set out to provide some empirical link between personality and music taste.  In an article titled “The Do Re Mi’s of Everyday Life: The Structure and Personality Correlates of Music Preferences,” Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling conducted four different studies to unearth some kind of scientifically measurable link between music preferences and personalities.

Study participants perceived that their music choices were highly correlated to their own personalities.  Whether or not this is true, participants wanted their music preferences to be illustrative of their personalities, interests, and hobbies.  This is important to note, because the study was conducted on the premise that subjects could identify their own personality traits and music preferences.

One interesting discovery from the study was the lack of any correlation between depression, anxiety, or mental stability and music choices.  This lack of correlation is excused with the explanation that all categories of music are able to express a wide range of emotions.

Genres of music were divided up into four distinct categories: reflective and complex (blues, folk, jazz), intense and rebellious (punk, rock, rap), upbeat and conventional (pop), and energetic and rhythmic (house, electronic).

Links were found between these categories and personality traits.  After listening to ten randomly selected songs from the music libraries of study participants, the researchers found they could actually predict the personality traits participants self-identified with.

For the most part, many stereotypes about music preferences were actually backed up by the study.  Listeners of pop music are in fact more social than those who listen to mellow folk and rock.  People who listen to classical and jazz music perceive themselves as intelligent and cultured.

However, it is also worth noting that music in and of itself is often a part of larger social contexts.  More extraverted people tend to go out more and thus listen to more pop and dance music than introverted people.  In this sense, the study is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This logic can be furthered to say that music choice itself does not arise from specific personality types; it is a tool through which people find groups and interests, and in these ways find self-definition.  Every kind of music exists as one aspect of a more complex social and cultural niche.

Nonetheless, it’s fun to stereotype the music tastes of myself and others with science firmly on my side.

This article appeared in Demo‘s January 2014 print issue.

Sian Last is a second-year student pursuing a double major in Art History and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies. She loves music and Demo Magazine. Some of her current musical obsessions include Lucius, Kopecky Family Band, Dessa, and James Blake. When she is not shoulders-deep in her school readings, Sian enjoys going to just about any concert, exploring Toronto, writing, and playing her ukulele, Sally.

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