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Music tastes may be influenced by personality traits, researchers say

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Have you wondered why you like a particular song or genre of music? The answer may lie in your personality, although other factors also play a role, researchers say.

Many people tend to form their musical identity during adolescence, around the same time they explore their social identity. Preferences can change over time, but research shows that people tend to be particularly fond of music since their teenage years and recall music from a specific age period — 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 — more easily.

Music tastes are often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way to understand preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. A model described three dimensions of musical attributes: excitement, valence and depth.

“Excitement is related to the amount of energy and intensity of the music,” says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. According to a study by Greenberg and other researchers, punk and heavy metal songs such as Five Finger Death Punch’s “White Knuckles” were very exciting.

“Valencia is a spectrum,” from negative emotions to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley & His Comets were very valentine.

Depth indicates “both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity,” says Greenberg. “We discovered that rapper Pitbull’s music would be shallow, [and] classical and jazz music could be very deep.

Moreover, musical attributes have interesting relationships with each other. “High depth often correlates with lower valence, so sadness in music also evokes depth,” he says.

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We prefer the music of artists whose personality you identify with. “When people listen to music, they’re motivated by how similar that artist is to themselves,” says Greenberg.

In his 2021 study, participants rated artists’ personality traits using the Big 5 model: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN). For respondents, David Bowie showed great open-mindedness and neuroticism; while Marvin Gaye showed great friendliness.

“The game between the [personality of the] both the listener and the artist predicted the musical preferences of the artist beyond just the attributes of the music,” says Greenberg.

Personality traits can predict people’s musical tastes, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants from around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extroversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

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Our cognitive styles and way of thinking can also predict the types of music we will like. A 2015 study by Greenberg and colleagues distinguishes between systematists and empathists — people who understand the world through thoughts and emotions versus people who are interested in rules and systems. “Empathizers tend to prefer sadness in music while [systemizers] prefer more intensity in the music“, said Greenberg. “A lot [and] data science professionals [are] high on systematization and also prefers really intense music.

Additionally, empathizers and systematizers listen to music with great depth, but empathizers prefer attributes that represent emotional depth, and systematists prefer attributes that represent intellectual depth and technical complexity.

While personality may be one determinant of our musical preferences, another could be context. Minsu Park and his colleagues identified temporal patterns in listening behavior – people tend to listen to relaxing music in the evening and upbeat music during the day. “This fluctuation is almost identical regardless of your cultural location and other demographic information,” says Park, assistant professor of social research and public policy at New York University Abu Dhabi.

There is, however, a basic difference between people of different cultures. In Latin America, people tend to listen to “more exciting music compared to other people in other regions”, and in Asia, they tend to listen to “more relaxing music”. [than] people from other areas,” says Park.

Age and gender are also related to certain types of music. Young people tend to like intense music and older people tend to dislike it, according to Greenberg’s research. Soft music listeners are more likely to be female, and loud music listeners are more likely to be male and from the Western Hemisphere.

There are also age trends in how people interact with music.

A 2013 study that looked at data from two studies involving more than a quarter of a million individuals showed that “Young people listen to music much more often than middle-aged adultsand young people listen to music in a wide variety of settings, while adults listen to music primarily in private settings.

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Personality can influence our musical tastes, but it is important to note that changes in musical taste do not indicate a change in personality. Even if we change what we listen to, we implicitly remain the same.

“An introvert may change over time… but ultimately his core [and] basis will be introversion,” says Greenberg.

Greenberg has created a 35-question quiz that provides insight into personality and musical preferences. To do the test, visit this site.