Today’s Quiz for October 25th: What Your Music Taste Says About You

What Your Music Taste Says About You

Mel, selected from DivineCaroline

Which came first—the music or the melancholy? In the movie High Fidelity, the  narrator, Rob, thinks about the countless people out there listening to songs of  heartbreak and loneliness. “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable?  Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” he wonders. Given how  certain personality types seem drawn to particular kinds of music, it’s a fair  question to ask. For example, I’d probably look and feel out of place at an  Insane Clown Posse concert, but plop me down in the middle of a Death Cab for  Cutie crowd, and I’d blend right in. Our taste in music can influence everything  from the way we act to the way we dress—or is it that the music we choose to  listen to reflects our personalities?

Most well-rounded people enjoy a variety of music, their MP3 players a highly  individualized assortment of multiple genres. But they also have a particular  genre or two that speaks the most to them. And those genres, according to some  studies, speak the most about them, too.

Different Musical Tastes, Similar Personality Traits

Think about a time when someone insulted your favorite musician or band. Did it  feel like a personal attack? Professor Adrian North, of Scotland’s Heriot-Watt  University, believes that’s because we use music as an extension of our  personalities. We’re drawn to certain genres because we relate to them in some  way. Over the past few years, he’s conducted a worldwide study linking musical  taste to personality traits. In an online survey, North asked participants to  rate more than one hundred genres and then answer personality-based questions.  He’s used the thirty-six thousand–plus responses he’s received so far to form a  few hypotheses about fans.

North’s findings reveal some truth in stereotypes, such as that dance fans  are creative and classical fans are introverts, but they also challenge a few.  For instance, rock/heavy metal people are often thought to be rough around the  edges, but surveys suggest they’re actually gentler and calmer. There are also  quite a few similarities between genres that aren’t thought to mesh well, like  rock/heavy metal and reggae. The genre types may vary wildly, but that doesn’t  mean their fans can’t find some common ground, at least personality-wise.

Finding Truth in Fan Stereotypes Peter Rentfrow, an assistant professor  at the University of Cambridge, also thinks that personality has much to do with  music preferences. In a 2003 study called “The Do Re Mi’s of Everyday Life: The  Structure and Personality Correlates of Music Preferences,” he and Sam Gosling,  a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, came up with four categories  for music: Reflexive and Complex (blues/classical/folk/jazz), Energetic and  Rhythmic (hip hop/dance), Upbeat and Conventional (religious/country/pop), and  Intense and Rebellious (heavy metal/rock/alternative rock). They found that  those who fell into one group over another had a few common characteristics.

Energetic and Rhythmic: confident, liberal-minded,  gregarious, athletic, feels attractive

Upbeat and  Conventional: trusting, hardworking, feels attractive, helpful,  politically conservative

Reflexive and Complex:  open-minded, politically liberal, creative, intelligent, tolerant, enjoys  aesthetic experiences

Intense and Rebellious: athletic,  energetic, adventurous, intelligent, inquisitive

Rentfrow and Gosling have conducted a number of joint studies concerning  music and personality. In 2007, they tested whether stereotypes about music  genres and fans have any truth to them, the results of which were published in  the journal Psychology of Music. First, they asked seventy-four people a series  of personality-related questions and afterward told them to list their ten  favorite songs. (Volunteers also had a week to change their choices.)  Seventy-four CDs of the participants’ top-ten songs were made and distributed to  eight people, who were then asked to guess the nature of the volunteers based on  their song selections.

Interestingly, the eight observers accurately predicted congeniality,  forgiveness, openness to experience, creativity, and emotional balance. They did  better than respondents in previous studies in which people used pictures and  videos as personality indicators.

Songs That Stand the Test of Time

Since the participants  were college students, it’s possible that age makes a difference when it comes  to genres predicting personalities. As we age, music tends to define us less,  and our tastes vary more. And that probably has much to do with the fact that  our personalities change as get older, too. As we develop, our musical tastes  evolve along with us. But though we branch out into different musical genres, I  think we all have at least one that carries more significance for us than  others. It’s the kind of music that we relate the most to, be it through  heartfelt lyrics, aggressive tempo, or the soft twang of a single guitar.

Anything we willingly incorporate into our lives could be considered a  personality indicator, but most of us hold music a lot closer to our hearts than  we do clothes or interior decorations. So think twice before you question or  insult others’ taste in music. Chances are, they’ll take it personally—and based  on the aforementioned studies’ findings, they might be right.