Music Business

How your music preferences match your personality traits

There are plenty of factors that have influenced your music taste. However, a study at Cambridge University discovered your personality is heavily reflected in your favorite tunes.

by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0.

Have you ever noticed how angry people generally listen to angry intense music? Or mellow people tend to like mellow music? It turns out that empirical observations on how music preferences match personality traits have now been confirmed thanks to a study by Dr. David Greenberg at Cambridge University.

It’s Not Where You Live

Dr. Greenberg’s research involved more than 350,000 participants from over 50 countries and six continents, and found that the links between musical preferences and personality are universal.

For instance, the study found that. . .

  • Ed Sheeran’s song “Shivers” is as likely to appeal to extraverts living in the UK as those living in Argentina or India.
  • Those with neurotic traits in the US are as likely to be into Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” as people with a similar personality living in Denmark or South Africa.
  • Agreeable people the world over will tend to like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” or Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.”
  • National borders cannot stop open people from replaying David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or Nina Simone.
  • It does not matter where a conscientious person lives, they are unlikely to enjoy Rage Against the Machine.

The reason why is that across the world the researchers found the same positive correlations between extraversion and contemporary music, between conscientiousness and unpretentious music, between agreeableness and mellow music, and between openness and contemporary, sophisticated music.

How The Study Was Conducted

In order to do the study, people were asked how much they liked listening to 23 genres of music, then complete a Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) and provide demographic information. Interestingly, the researchers focused on Western music primarily because it is the most listened to globally and and as a result, was deemed to have the most therapeutic potential.

They then used the MUSIC model, a widely accepted framework for conceptualizing musical preferences, to place them into one of the five key musical styles:

  • Mellow’ (featuring romantic, slow, and quiet attributes as heard in soft rock, R&B, and adult contemporary genres)
  • Unpretentious’ (uncomplicated, relaxing, and unaggressive attributes as heard in country genres)
  • Sophisticated’ (inspiring, complex, and dynamic features as heard in classical, operatic, avant-garde, and traditional jazz genres)
  • Intense’ (distorted, loud, and aggressive attributes as heard in classic rock, punk, heavy metal, and power pop genres)
  • Contemporary’ (rhythmic, upbeat, and electronic attributes as heard in the rap, electronica, Latin, and Euro-pop genres)

While the study identified the relationship between personality and music preferences, there are still some unanswered questions. For instance, if you’re an angry person and you listen to intense music, does that make you angrier or mellow you out? And we all know that people’s tastes do shift over time, so how does that fit with your personality then?

As with most studies, this one confirms some of the things we already know, but it does open up other questions that we may not have thought of. The biggest take away here is that it doesn’t matter where in the world you live, your personality traits definitely matches your musical taste.

Bobby Owsinski is a producer/engineer, author and coach. He has authored 24 books on recording, music, the music business and social media.

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