What Does Your Music Say About You?

I went to a high school at a time (one not that different from most others, I imagine) when musical preferences were a good clue to social group membership. There were, for example, the punks who listened to, well, punk; the stoners who listened to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" over and over and over again; the hipsters, who listened to what was the hip music of the time (grunge); and the "popular" kids who listened to pop, pop rock, and country (I went to high school in Nashville, where country music was the popular music). We all assumed that what a person listened to could tell you a lot about who they were, and it wasn't uncommon for the question, "So, what sort of music do you listen to?" to be one of the first asked upon meeting someone new. It turns out our assumption was probably right. People's musical preferences good indicators of their personality make up. At least, that's the finding of research coming out of the lab of social psychologist Sam Gosling, of animal personality fame.

Gosling is not new to intuitively plausible personality research. He's found, for example, that people's personality judgments based only on observing a person's bedroom or obvious are pretty accurate1, which fits with my experience of people accurately judging my personality based only on the fact that my desk looks like it has been hit by an F5 tornado. In the last few years, he's turned to music, with the following goals2:

The fundamental question guiding our research program is, Why do people listen to music? Although the answer to this question is undoubtedly complex and beyond the scope of a single article, we attempt to shed some light on the issue by examining music preferences. In this research we take the first crucial steps to developing a theory of music preferences--a theory that will ultimately explain when, where, how, and why people listen to music. (p. 1236)

It turns out that, despite the fact that most of us believe that musical preferences say something about who we are, social psychologists haven't really been all that interested in studying music. Rentfrow and Gosling write

At this very moment, in homes, offices, cars, restaurants, and clubs around the world, people are listening to music. Despite its prevalence in everyday life, however, the sound of music has remained mute within social and personality psychology. Indeed, of the nearly 11,000 articles published between 1965 and 2002 in the leading social and personality journals, music was listed as an index term (or subject heading) in only seven articles. (p. 1236)

Seven articles! This simply will not do (I should note that cognitive psychologists have been studying the hell out of music for some time, 'cause we get people). So Rentfrow and Gosling start down the road to remedying this by looking at the relationship between individual differences in musical preferences and personality traits.

They started off by looking at people's beliefs about the importance of music "in people's everyday lives." To do this, they gave university undergrads questionnaires that asked them to rate the importance of various activities, including listening to music, to indicate how often they participated in those activities, and to rate how much those activities said about themselves and other people. As you can see from the graph below (Rentfrow and Gosling's Figure 3), participants believed that music revealed as much or more about themselves and others than other activities. In act, hobbies were the only types of activities that revealed as much about people as their musical preferences.


Now confident that people really do use musical preferences as indicators of personal qualities, Rentfrow and Gosling next sought to map out the dimensions of those preferences. They started by identifying different musical genres, using a free-association task with five judges, and then getting more information from music stores. This process yielded 80 different musical genres, which were then divided into fourteen, with 66 subgenres. Using these genres and subgenres, Rentfrow and Gosling developed a questionnaire they called the "Short Test of Musical Preferences," or STOMP, which they gave to participants along with several personality measures. Participants also completed the STOMP a second time three weeks after their first testing, to measure the test's retest reliability.

The STOMP results were fed into a factor analysis, which yielded four factors, or dimensions, of musical preferences. Rentfrow and Gosling labeled these dimensions "Reflective and Complex," which included the genres blues, jazz, classical, and folk; "Intense and Rebellious," which included rock, alternative, and heavy metal; "Upbeat and Conventional," including country, sound tracks, religious, and pop; and "Energetic and Rhythmic," including rap and hip/hop, soul and funk, as well as electronica and dance. The correlations between these factors from the first testing and the retesting were high (between .77 and .82), indicating that STOMP and its resulting factors were reliable. Subsequent testing with more diverse samples (the original sample was comprised entirely of university undergrads) indicated that the factors were generalizable as well.

Finally, they looked at the correlation between the different dimensions of musical preferences and different personality traits using several different measures of personality, including the Big Five Index, tests of social dominance, and tests of communication styles. The results indicated that the different dimensions of musical preferences do in fact correlate with different personality features. Here's a summary of the results (from pp. 1248-1249):

  • Reflective and Complex: positively correlated with openness to experience, "self-perceived intelligence," verbal ability, emotional stability, and political liberalism. Negatively correlated with "social dominance orientation," political conservatism, wealth, and athleticism.
  • Intense and Rebellious: positively correlated with openness to experience, extroversion, athleticism, "self-perceived intelligence,""social dominance orientation," and verbal ability.
  • Upbeat and Conventional: positively correlated with extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, self-esteem, political conservatism, physical attractiveness (self-perceived), wealth, and athleticism. Negatively correlated with emotional stability, openness to experience, "social dominance orientation," depression, political liberalism, intelligence, and verbal ability.
  • Energetic and Rhythmic: Positively correlated with extraversion, agreeableness, political liberalism, physical attractiveness, and athleticism. Negatively correlated with "social dominance orientation" and political conservatism.

In short, people who listen to jazz are smart, liberal, adventurous, and poor; people who listen to heavy metal are smart, liberal, adventurous, athletic, and prone to social dominance; people who listen to Madonna or the "Dancing With Wolves" soundtrack are agreeable, conscientious, conservative, rich, happy, dumb, emotionally unstable, and hot; and people who listen to hip hop are extraverted, agreeable, liberal, athletic, and hot. Well, those are the tendencies at least (I've known some smart Madonna fans, though I have to say that they were pretty emotionally unstable).

Having established that musical preferences do reveal information about personality differences, Rentfrow and Gosling conducted a set of follow up studies designed to look at whether and how people actually use information about musical preferences to make personality judgments3. First, they looked at whether people talk about music when getting to know each other. To do this, they used the following method with college undergrads:

Participants were introduced to a study of how individuals get to know one another over the Internet. Each was instructed to interact with another participant for 6 weeks using an on-line bulletin-board system. Half the participants were assigned to same-sex pairs, and half to opposite-sex pairs. Participants were given no specific instructions about what to talk about. Instead, they were encouraged to talk about anything that they thought would enable them to get to know one another.

Analyzing the transcripts of these conversations, they found that from the first encounters, music was discussed more often than all other activities combined! Don't believe me? Here's the graph (their Figure 1):


As you can see, it wasn't until the sixth week of the participants' interactions that the amount of talk about all of the other activities combined equaled the amount of talk about music. Clearly, then, people are bringing up music a lot when they're getting to know someone, indicating that they believe it will tell people about themselves. But are our perceptions based on musical preferences accurate? To determine this, Rentfrow and Gosling had 74 undergrads provide a list of their top ten favorite songs. A second set of participants was then asked to rate the first set of participants on several personality dimensions, based solely on listening to the individuals' ten favorite songs. These ratings were then compared to the first set of participants' scores on the same personality dimensions. The correlations between self-ratings and the observers (who'd only listened to their favorite songs!) ranged between .11 and .38 for each of the Big Five personality dimensions, with all but one of the correlations (emotional stability) being .27 or above. In other words, personality judgments based solely on musical preferences were pretty damn accurate. That's impressive!

There you have it, then. Social psychologists (two of them, at least) have jumped head first into the waters of music research, learning that our music says a lot about who we are, and that we can make pretty accurate judgments about what people are like based solely on the music they like. I now feel somewhat less guilty about not being friends in high school with people who listened to country music. We probably wouldn't have gotten along, 'cause our personalities would have clashed.

1Gosling, S.D., Ko, S. J., Mannarelli, T., & Morris, M.E. (2002). A Room with a cue: Judgments of personality based on offices and bedrooms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 379-398.
2Rentfrow, P.J., & Gosling, S.D. (2003). The do re mi's of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1236-1256.
3Rentfrow, P.J., & Gosling, S.D. (2006). Message in a Ballad: The role of music preferences in interpersonal perception. Psychological Science, 17, 236-242.

More like this

Those categories are biased towards North American music. I know a lot of music that would fit in more than one of them. Also, what Bora said, only substituting Portuguese for Serbian.

How long before someone writes a script that (a) tells you your personality (b) finds your perfect match based on your last.fm profile? I smell venture capital $$$...

I notice that their sample is entirely made up of undergrads. I'd love to see some data on older groups. Between twelve and twenty-five the first question you ask a new acquaintence might bee "what kind of music do you like" but after that it's replaced by "what do you do for a living." Their figure three, things that reveal information about a person, doesn't even include occupation (unless it's burried in "hobbies and activities").

Today my favorite music is Bucket Head, Purdy Mouth, Prince Lincoln Thompson, Pigface, Jay Munly, Ani Difranco, and They Might Be Giants. What does that tell you about my personality?

Asking me "So, what sort of music do you listen to?" would just give you enough information to know that I have kids. What I listen to, and what I'd like to listen to, rarely coincide nowadays.

I'm a complete outlier -- for an American. Niyaz, A.R. Rahman, Jamshid, Apocalyptica, Shonen Knife, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars.

By Karen Lofstrom (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink

"The correlations between self-ratings and the observers (who'd only listened to their favorite songs!) ranged between .11 and .38 for each of the Big Five personality dimensions, with all but one of the correlations (emotional stability) being .27 or above. In other words, personality judgments based solely on musical preferences were pretty damn accurate. That's impressive!"

I don't think so. correlation of .27 means that about 7% of someone personality is explained (or predicted) by the others' judgements. When it goes up to .38 this amount is doubled (14%). Not so bad for social psychology research (to be published at least), but would you say that someone can accurately judge your personality?

Two points: First, it's true they only looked at American music. It would be interesting to look music from other cultures. I bet you'd get similar results (music correlated with personality), though the types of music, and perhaps the dimensions, would change.

Second, in the second paper, they did only use undergrads. They note this as a limitation, and I do believe there's research going on right now to replicate the findings with more diverse samples.

Avner, that's not quite what it means. It means that those portions of the variance are accounted for by people's ratings based only on music. I still think it's rather impressive, given that the only exposure they had was to the person's music.

But Chris, don't you think this is a very small portion that is accounted by (BTW, this is exactly the meaning I wrote, if you think about that)? and as many here said might be an artifat of the research setting?
Since I know other studies of Gosling, which showed that other "cues" may cause a similar correlation between self and other judgements, I wonder if this is indeed an impressive finding.

It is extremely interesting research. Although of course you can quibble: "country" is an extremely diverse genre and this study was done in Austin the alt.country capital of the universe, which not much at all in common with the mainstream output of Nashville. The article says country "emphasises positive themes" which ... well, I think that is as wrong as it is right. But of course you have to set some restrictions and doesn't invalidate the results. Metal nerds would probably want to quibble about the differences between grindcore and industrial fans!

If I wanted a person to know "who I was", I probably give them a mix CD of my favourite music and the first thing I do in someone's house is surrepticiously check out their CD collection and book shelves ... so the anecdotal evidence is all there.

"country" is an extremely diverse genre and this study was done in Austin the alt.country capital of the universe,...

And what does one make of a country star like Johnny Cash doing a cover tune of Trent Reznor's / NIN's "Hurt" ??

Although of course you can quibble...

Yes, but have you noticed who makes up the listening public in different genres of music? To pick up on the political angle, I don't know many left-of-center country fans (except for the alt.country you mentioned), but I also don't know any right-of-center indie fans--I should know, I used to be one. It gets a bit more muddled when you start getting into classical and jazz because of the influx of old people, but most of the people I've met at actual performances were solidly leftist.

I'm surprised at how well this confirms thoughts I already had regarding personality and music taste, but I wouldn't want to read too much into it, all the same.

Naturally, the categories immediately stick out as a problem, at least in the online version. :)

I love film scores, I hate "theme songs".

I hate "pop music" today but I remain an 80s pop music fanatic. (Similarly, my mom was hardly an 80s music person but lived for what was then called "oldies" stations before the classic rock demographic asserted itself).

Where does progressive rock fit in? The listener of "The Flower Kings" certainly isn't the typical listener of other 90s+ "rock" music. Nor is the Yes fan of Close to the Edge and Relayer typical of the "classic rock" fan.

Progressive Metal like Dream Theater? Its hardly typical for the Metallica hit parade listener to endure all 9 1/2 minutes of "Metropolis Pt 1".

And let's not even get started on the typical XM Radio "Fine Tuning" listener (well, like myself, really).

If there's an obscure music that's on the cusp of multiple labels, its usually what I prefer listening to.

And its the type of music listener I prefer talking about music to, and to me reflects more than anything a refusal to live by labels.

I wonder if this test actually accounts for that personality type?

Given the labels they have, I doubt it. I hate being excluded. :)

By Joe Shelby (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink

...people who listen to heavy metal are smart, liberal, adventurous, athletic, and prone to social dominance...

As a devoted fan of extreme varieties of heavy metal I'd like to denounce this stereotype. I am not now nor have I ever been athletic. My work, school and leisure time consists monolithically of being on my ass, in front of a computer and fueling myself with candy-bars and energy drinks.

Progressive Metal like Dream Theater? Its hardly typical for the Metallica hit parade listener to endure all 9 1/2 minutes of "Metropolis Pt 1".

Dude, fuck that! Metallica's first four albums contained some of the most complex metal that the genre has ever seen, some tracks surpassing the 10 minute mark. And as for everything else Metallica has done, I doubt many hardcore metal fans care since everything they've done since ...And Justice for All has sucked.

Mr. Di Pietro, I respect your opinion and admit my lack of knowledge of Metallica's pre-"popular" days.

I was coming from the perspective of the more contemporary Metallica fan who only discovered the band because of MTV's constant playing of the videos for The Black Album, and VH-1's overplayed "Behind the Music" from the early 2000s. You should have to admit that there are more of them than there are diehard fans still treasuring their vinyl copy of "Garage Days Revisited", or at least were during the peak of their popularity during the Black album and Load/Reload days.

There is a reason I specifically used the phrase "hit parade listener". That you are not one of those is obvious, so there was no need to defend yourself. My (brief) examination of the study and online surveys showed no real distinction between your view of "hardcore metal fans" and the casual hit parade listener.

Regardless, the language you used was a unnecessary given the tone of the conversation up to this point. Please remember you are on public forums that don't belong to you. Polite discretion is warranted until such time as you *personally* may have been insulted.

Back to the topic of musical labeling, given this new input, I find that some "Metal" fans don't consider certain other fans of Metal (and more recent Metallica specifically) as "Metal fans" is itself probably a very interesting facet to look into.

I wonder if psychologically it has the same origins as those who claim that some "Christians" aren't really "Christians" because of their support of science, gay rights, or the need to leave behind biblical literalism. :)

By Joe Shelby (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink

Regardless, the language you used was a unnecessary given the tone of the conversation up to this point. Please remember you are on public forums that don't belong to you. Polite discretion is warranted until such time as you *personally* may have been insulted.

I didn't mean to insult, so I apologize. My language was meant to convey enthusiasm and emulate the sort of discussion that goes on between metal fans (giving a "flavor", so to speak). I'm sorry if I sounded overly offensive. :(

Well, getting back on topic after the derail:

I wonder if psychologically it has the same origins as those who claim that some "Christians" aren't really "Christians" because of their support of science, gay rights, or the need to leave behind biblical literalism. :)

Probably, Metal fans are notoriously cult-like and puristic. And in my experience at least, enclaves of metal fans tend to be hierarchical and status oriented (where knowledge of metal minutiae, ability to "shred" on guitar, etc. are regarded as status indicators). It probably has some psychological traits in common with fundamentalist religionism, given the obvious parallels.

Accepted. Maybe its just me, maybe not, but given the academic nature and professional attitudes of the SBers, I prefer to "keep it clean" on their sites until I see otherwise that they don't mind.

Actually, I'm well aware it's the typical language of metal fans, as I've hung around them since the 70s back when the great debate was whether or not KISS was metal or just "pop" when compared with the harder core of Zep and Sabbath.

I thought metal at the time (hey, I was only 7) but in hindsight, none of them are metal - KISS is pop-rock and Sabbath and Zep are both blues bands. :)

No worries.

By Joe Shelby (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink

I don't know many left-of-center country fans

I do, a large number of them. I'm not saying there isn't truth to the stereotype of country music (hello, Dixie Chicks) but the traffic isn't all one way. Of course there is also a strong libertarian streak in alot of country music which muddies it further.

Looking at the bigger picture, my "back of a napkin" guess would be that you would find music's important decreasing as people get older.

Consider that when dealing with a large, diverse population, people tend to look for common ground with which to to strike up a conversation, and from there a friendship (or more). Hobbies are obviously high as means for association because most people who associate by the hobby do so likely because they met through the hobby. Certainly true for gamers, SCA, amature athletes.

But when that's not immediately available, when you're dealing with a ton of total strangers in your dorm, your classroom, your orientation session, then you need other filters to guide you to people you might agree with on enough topics to hold a friendship together.

The thing that puts music at an advantage over movies or tv is the choice factor. Yeah you have some choices over the tv to watch or the movies to see, but those movies and tv shows are time-limited. Often, obsessing over TV is usually treated as a sign of weirdness or "geek", especially if its sci-fi or a soap opera - certainly useful for geeks to unite around, but they usually can already recognize each other without actually having to broach the subject, by the merchandise attached to their clothes or their stuff.

Movies are extremely tied to time - their range of being a topic of conversation that someone might feel comfortable knowing anything of is rather small, and to make matters worse, talking about movies is actively discouraged because of the infamous "spoiler" problem: you can't talk about a movie with enough detail to appear knowledgeable to someone who hasn't seen it if you're trying to encourage them to see it. If they've seen it, you're preaching to the choir and look bad. If they haven't, you're spoiling it. If they have, but your analysis goes too deep, you're seen as a geek just like TV (Kevin Smith's various Star Wars references play out this stereotype rather nicely for the laughs - but of course, I now read like a total geek for having been able to refer to Kevin Smith, supporting my own argument).

So music, the one thing people all have generally some opinion on, the one thing that can't be spoiled just by talking about it, the one thing where the choices one has to what they are fans of aren't temporally implanted on them by the media companies except for the absolute latest-and-greatest, and even then there's a longevity about it that's not seen in movies. Back in the 80s, following a song up and down the American Top 40 charts could take months, and long after that it might still make MTV rotation. That still exists today, though yes the time period has gotten shorter.

But to adults, such things are less important in how we relate to each other. They're things we share still, but not nearly as often or with such emphasis. The reason is because we aren't introduced to such extreme diversity nearly so often. Usually our biggest change of surrounding people is when we change jobs. If we change towns as a result of having to change jobs, the hobbies will become the primary means of finding new people to associate with FAR more than anything as (now recognizably) arbitrary as music.

In short we're no longer just looking for people to talk to, we're looking for people to do stuff with because "doing stuff" is no longer provided by the environment we're in. In school, we're required to play sports, be in band, participate in class activities. None of those requirements are forced upon adults (and woe to the HR department of the company that tries to force it).

So we look for people to do stuff with, and music (unless you're a heavy concert goer or an amature or semi-pro performer) simply isn't something people just "do" once they're adults.

By Joe Shelby (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink

Disclaimer: I'm 36 (and married). I wouldn't have said anything like this when I was 25 - music was still the most important topic of discussion and filter for finding friends in my life at the time.

By Joe Shelby (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink


As you seem to be coming from the perspective of an Austin country fan, you've no doubt had more exposure to the "other side" of country music (nice site, btw). My experience of country music fans comes from my years in the military and living in small towns in rural Arizona and Oregon, where the injunction to "put a boot in your ass/It`s the American way" is taken seriously.

I have no doubt that the categories are unnecessarily reductive, but they are oddly predictive as well, at least in terms of who people hang out with and identify themselves as.

Generalising patterns of social interaction from a sample consisting entirely of undergraduates *from one University* is a such a bizarre overextrapolation as to frankly beggar belief. At a stroke they've removed a whole swath of possible lines of conversation - where are you from, what do you do, what's life like where you are, etc, as well as (quite likely) restricting the range of musical tastes in the sample population. The conversations were online, so there was no reason for them to restrict themselves to one campus. If they'd had (say) half their sample population from Cambridge and half from Texas, they'd have had a completely different set of conversations to analyse. Heck, if they'd even included some graduate students or faculty, they'd have had different results.

I'm a molecular biologist, not a psychologist, but if even *I* can see the gaping flaw, there's no way on Earth this should have passed peer review. You can't just "note it as a weakness" when it's as fundamental as this. These results are simply not applicable to anything outside the sample population - i.e. undergraduates from the University of Texas at Austin. Fair enough as far as it goes, but publish it in the student magazine and don't bother the world with it until you have some real data.

In passing, as a classical music fan, I'd say that any analysis that can lump five hundred years' worth of diverse musical styles into the one heading "classical", and split the last thirty years' music into tens of categories is so silly as to be not worth more than ten seconds' discussion.

Honestly, they'd have got as much information from an online "What Tellytubby are you" quiz.

By Peter Ellis (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink


Music can be a 'hobby' also. Take the typical music-collector obsessive. That can be almost any type of music; people who collect Delta Blues 78rpms, those for whom tracking down the rarest Japanese imprints of obscure 60s west-coast psychedelic rock bands is the highest pleasure, reggae selektors who only buy music if its been issued on 7" vinyl from Jamaica.

Does this category of person fall into an entirely different personality type from your average listener of delta blues? I love delta blues, but then I'm happy buying the stuff on a CD because I simply want to listen to it, I don't have to possess the absolutely earliest known authentic release of the song in question.

On the other hand I'm 41 years old and music is still entirely important to me as a socialisation experience (I am in fact a musician). So does this set me apart from my age peers who only buy two records a year?* I think so.

Another class of music obsessive I don't really see in this survey are those for whom only the most wilfully obscure will do. Jazz, blues, metal, the outer reaches of electronica, these types of people are found across many genres. I wonder how would they fit into this survey (my guess is that they might in fact be closely aligned with the obsessive collectors)?

* I've heard, and used, this as a pejorative; "those people who only buy two albums a year - this record is one of them".

D&F, I've never been to Austin alas. What you say is true of course (reminds me of the time I was in a GI bar in Seoul and that Toby Keith song came on, anywaaay ... ) and I wouldn't deny a certain correlation of geography, culture, music and whatnot. But its not the whole story. "Country music" is more than just "mainstream country music." I just suppose I wonder where I would have ended up if I had done the survey, probably not where I should be. Very few of the country music fans I know, even the ones in late middle age, would fall into the "upbeat and conventional" category as described above.

But I'm not criticisng the research, its very interesting and I'm glad its being done.

"And what does one make of a country star like Johnny Cash doing a cover tune of Trent Reznor's / NIN's "Hurt" ??"

One thinks he is a musical genius with a stoooopid label (Columbia) who dumped him when he didn't produce what they wanted.

Cash is one of only two people to be in both the rock and roll and country halls of fame (you can guess the other one), an honor that almost certainly will never happen ever again.

Contemporary country is recycled 70s pop for the most part--suburban kids in cowboy hats.

My favorite music is all the stuff featured on a season of American Routes http://www.americanroutes.org/

and then some.

By Faithful Reader (not verified) on 13 Mar 2007 #permalink


The difference is that "collecting" as a hobby is not the same level of social activity as the other hobbies I mention (including performance - I'm a musician and folk dancer (English Morris) when not writing code and sitting in meetings).

One can be a collector of music but meeting other music collectors rarely ranks high on the list of things to do, unless one is looking for a trade or a purchase. The online world, led by ebay, has now met that need so the old record conventions aren't nearly as popular as they were in the past. Same with other collecting hobbies like coins or toys - there are a few mall gatherings but not nearly what I used to see a decade ago. It's cheaper to sell online than to have someone arrange all of the details for a mall or expo event.

Certainly for talking about music, the online forums have greatly removed the need to talk about it "in person". So really, its not a social hobby in the same sense; it's a personal one.

"So, you collect music?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah. What type?"






"good stuff?"

"I think so."


not getting very far in a conversation, is it. :)

Now a hobby that doesn't involve major activity but is extremely social is sports fan. Plenty to talk about through stat bragging, armchair quarterbacking, ranting about owner-manager politics, and a whole lot more. But then again, something about sports dips into a different part of psychology, something more tribal I would imagine, than music or other entertainment forms.

By Joe Shelby (not verified) on 13 Mar 2007 #permalink

While these findings are interesting, I think there are a number of limitations and that this is probably a case of the chicken and the egg. What I mean by that is that given the results, I think the findings have a lot more to do with culture groups of people that gravitate towards music tastes than the music itself drawing people with certain personalities.

So, for example, let's say you're an intellectual hippy/liberal type who fits the "Reflexive and Complex" personality type. You tend to hang out with others who share your love of books and your hatred of G.W.Bush. They tend to listen to reflexive and complex music. So what do you do? You listen to it too.

Or, you're an African-American and your friends are as well. They tend to listen to hip-hop, so you do, too (energetic and rhythmic). You know what African-Americans are in ridiculously large numbers? Liberals. (No republican presidential candidate has ever earned more than 15% of the black vote, evidently, and the number is usually closer to 10%). Blacks also tend to not have social dominance personalities, given that they are usually marginalized. Also, the famous black people tend to be athletes, again because of being marginalized from leadership/intellectual jobs.

A more interesting study would be whether there were actual qualities in the music itself that correlated with personality of those who chose to listen to it (qualities such as modality, range, # and type of instruments, timbre, tempo, rhythm, harmony, etc). I predict the results wouldn't be so clean. I think that who makes the music and what his/her/their image is will be a stronger predictor of people's choices than the actual musical qualities themselves.

Haha! Of course, my quick summary was meant to be a bit silly. Social dominance just ain't happening for Wayne and Garth.

I don't listen to music much on a daily basis. But my taste in music defines me. Most people are visual and music is just something they kind of enjoy. But I am a thoroughly auditory person--I process the world through sounds and music more than through visuals. I could not have a close friend or a relationship with someone who did not "get" my music or who subjected me to bad music or unpleasant sounds on a daily basis. This is like a political poll where the opinions of political junkies who live and breathe politics 24/7 are mixed in with people who don't know or care much about politics at all. If you could separate out the auditories from the casual music listeners you'd get some very different results.

By TrueBlueMajority (not verified) on 13 Mar 2007 #permalink

So if I like Madonna I'm dumb? What a bunch of crap.

This kind of study omits one of the most important aspects in taste: social and class origins, positions, and aspiration. A much richer sociological study of taste was done by P. Bourdieu back in the early 1960's, published as "Distinctions: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste." Reducing taste to arbitrary personality factors omits the kind of background and structural factors that may produce both taste and attitude and shape other elective affinities.

By Lemmy Caution (not verified) on 13 Mar 2007 #permalink

HJ, I don't really think people are dumb just because they like Madonna. Again, the summary was meant to be slightly tongue in cheek.

Lemmy, you're right, it does omit that aspect, and it is quite important. However, social and class aspects aren't exactly orthogonal to personality factors, either. And it's unfair to call those factors arbitrary. The Big 5 have been studied to death, and have a great deal of reliability and validity (in the technical senses of those terms). It could be argued that the labels are inadequate, but the factors themselves certainly aren't arbitrary.

Science as OK Cupid? Here's my test:

72 %enjoys reflective and complex music
73 %enjoys edgy and aggressive music
13 %enjoys fun and simple music
89 %enjoys energetic and upbeat music

I strongly liked every type of music except "country/religious". Although i don't really know what 'religious' music is, I assume Christian contemporary, like on the Christian radio stations (basically inferior pop music). I wish they would have made a distinction between old-time Cash/Williams country and contemporary radio country (again, basically inferior pop music). Anyway my profile from the low score on that dimension is accurate enough:

People with low scores on the fun and simple music-preference dimension tend to introverted, unconventional, and artistic. When it comes to morals and values, chances are that they lean toward the liberal side, and consider beauty and inner harmony important principles in life. When selecting a movie to watch, they prefer suspense movies, cult movies, or foreign films.

By Jason Malloy (not verified) on 14 Mar 2007 #permalink

i think a certain person's personality won't be determined just because he/she likes the hippest song in town today. I would say that taste of music can SOMEWHAT define a personality. I know someone who is really an introvert but just found out that he listens to rock and roll and truly loud music? How can you explain his personality?

There is a brilliant essay available online about the Myers-Briggs personality type INTP......the author makes some comments on music, this guy makes a case that interest in particular sorts of music is deeply embedded in this type:

"Another area of interest common to INTPs, where Si has a strong influence, is Music. INTPs are usually fascinated by music and may have deep and wide-ranging tastes. Indeed, each of their three main functions (Ti, Ne, Si) plays a role in the enjoyment of music, and indeed music is a key interest for bringing out the feeling shadow of the INTP. Si itself brings a fascination for mood and atmosphere in music as well as for a strong sense of personal nostalgia. INTPs are therefore often keen on melancolic minor-key music in which an introspective and/or esoteric mood is conveyed"

Much more at: http://intp.org/intprofile.html

Hmmmm - I listen to Garth Brooks and Hindemith Sonatas for wind instruments, Adam Carroll and Brahms First Symphony, Nickel Creek and Beethoven Piano Sonata Op. 110, Robert Earl Keen and Traffic, Jackson Browne and Highway 6, Pat Green and Bach Brandenburg Concerti, Ben Folds Five and Creed. Maybe I'm complicated. Maybe I'm just nuts!!

I think it's a bunch of bunk. If you sampled my musical interests throughout the four decades of my life you will see that my musical interests have changed many times but my personality and political slant have remained pretty much the same.

Now in my late 40's I can hardly identify with my teenage self that couldn't conceive of ever liking anything but hard rock and metal. I no longer have that restless energy anymore that seemed to fit so well with hard rock.

"I don't really think people are dumb just because they like Madonna."

I do. Dumb about music, anyway.

so is it possible to change somebody's personality, by changing the type of music they listen to?

By dibyadeep (not verified) on 17 Mar 2007 #permalink

"I don't really think people are dumb just because they like Madonna."

Good luck man... He/she might not but theres a good chance...

Try that:
"I don't really think people are dumb just because they are republican."

A lot of the music I listen to, I like for the colours. The kind of synaesthesia where you perceive music as explosions of colours is really fun -- as I said to a friend, "I don't need hallucinogens; I have synaesthesia." I used to be really into melodic punk, but I'm drifting back into being a huge electronica fan (except when I first got into it, they called it "disco" -- meh).

I see a lot of similarities between electronica and classical, particularly in electronica where the composers are classically-trained. It's entirely possible to have a really crankin' house tune that's otherwise a fugue...

Thanks for the very interesting article.

Just like others, there are also lots of music I'd love to listen to. But I admit, I'm a bit crazy when it comes to alternative music. RNB music is also one of my favorite music genre. But the good thing I've encountered on your post is that, whatever music we prefer, there will always be the best ways to connect different types of music from the classic to the very punky music.

music, the one thing people all have generally some opinion on, the one thing that can't be spoiled just by talking about it, the one thing where the choices one has to what they are fans of aren't temporally implanted on them by the media companies except for the absolute latest-and-greatest, and even then there's a longevity about it that's not seen in movies. Back in the 80s, following a song up and down the American Top 40 charts could take months, and long after that it might still make MTV rotation. That still exists today, though yes the time period has gotten shorter.

I love rock like U2 Aerosmith, Bon Jovi..., and some of punk like green day and simple plan...

This is great!

Jamaica embraces white Artist from the U.K check it out at Avaleigh.co.uk
And download free music.

I would like to finf people over 35 years of age, to establish conversation or by mail about music,m ovie stars and classic movies. anyone interested could reach me through the internet.

The wait service was a bit chilly early on in the dinner (I think it is more of a neighborhood "joint"), but by the time I had finished my entree, msn nickleri they had really warmed up and after our espressos were finished (even my 10 yo old had an unsweetened cappuccino!) they sent us off with a couple of pieces of their logo-ed pottery, smiles and waves. Wasn't the dish I most savored on the trip, but it was the most satisfying on a number of levels.

Why are the personalities based off people who listen to only one genre of music? What if you listen to subgenres? Because I only listen to House :T . . .

I had never really thought of this before. But come to think of it, this is a question that I often have to answer.

But I listen to a variety of music; everything from rap to classical music. And I even like other cultural music as well. I wonder what that says about someone?

What would this study conclude about people who listen to pretty much everything? Maybe we are schizophrenic, multi- personality and bipolar!

I think musical tastes change depending on the sort of music you are subjected to over a period of time. If you like rave music chances are you go to a select group of night clubs. I have always had a taste for rock music but I have spent the last ten years recording and wiring up rock bands for performance and so my taste in music will had swayed more towards rock music

Although this is a question that is brought up in many situations, I believe there are endless answers. I listen to bands that play heavy metal, (Disturbed) but I also listen to OneRebublic which has a softer, more melodic tone to it. If I gave someone a CD of what music I listened to and they must judge my personality, they would think I have a dissociative identity disorder. These categories shouldnât be limited to 5 core ones. Music can have a generalization of someoneâs personality, but there is more than just putting them in a category and interpret ¬their personality without further communication. â...people who listen to heavy metal are smart, liberal, adventurous, athletic, and prone to social dominanceâ¦â I can highly disagree to that stereotype. When my friends see people listening to heavy metal, they imagine a person with five different pricings and on drugs. Also I am not athletic as I was described under that category. On the other hand, the graph of Figure 1 really had me thinking. Music is something that can be brought up in any conversation. It is a very flexible topic to discuss. But I believe the data could be more accurate with the interviewing of the older crowd and not just under grads.

Hmmm, then where do I fit in? I tend to listen to rock, upbeat pop, and a lot of male British artists, especially from the 80s.
It looks like the group that was observed was a very narrow group of just one area.