Music is something we all enjoy in our life. Some like hard rock music, while some go for soothing music. Did you know there is a correlation between an individual’s music choice and personality traits

Yes, a study shows that these relationships exist across cultures wherein an extravert from the UK and an extravert From Argentina or India may have a similar taste in music.

What was the experiment?

This research was led by Dr. David Greenberg, an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cambridge and a Postdoctoral Scholar at Bar-Ilan University. Greenberg and his colleagues used two different musical preference assessment methods.

The experiment was conducted with more than 350,000 participants from over 50 countries and six continents. Most importantly, the researchers chose Western music primarily because it has global acceptance. Its inclusion offers the most substantial potential to be applied globally in real-world and therapeutic settings.

During the experiment, the researchers used a widely accepted framework called the MUSIC model for conceptualising musical preferences, identifying five vital musical styles.

  • ‘Mellow’ – 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.

Along with this, the personality types were grouped into five types – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. So, the first method required the participants to self-report the extent to which they liked listening to 23 genres of music.

In addition, the second method had a more advanced approach wherein the participants were asked to listen to short audio clips from 16 genres and subgenres of Western music on the website furthermore requested to give their preferred reactions to each.

What were the findings?

The researchers found positive correlations between

  • Extraversion and contemporary music.
  • Conscientiousness and unpretentious music
  • Agreeableness and mellow and unpretentious music
  • Openness and mellow, contemporary, intense, and sophisticated music.

However, the researchers found a clear negative correlation between conscientiousness and intense music.

Besides, the researchers accurately predicted that extraversion, defined by excitement-seeking, sociability, and positive emotions, would be positively associated with contemporary music that has upbeat, positive, and danceable features. And this correlation was particularly strong around the equator – Central and South America.

Thus, concluding that climatic factors could influence musical preferences. Furthermore, people in warmer climates tend to have personality traits that make them more likely to prefer rhythmic, danceable music.

Apart from this, they were confident that conscientiousness, associated with order and obedience, clashed with intense musical styles, which are characterised by aggressiveness and rebellious themes.

Amid this, one finding was puzzling for the team. Greenberg, a musician, neuroscientist, and psychologist, said, “We thought that neuroticism would have likely gone one of two ways: preferring sad music to express their loneliness or preferring upbeat music to shift their mood. But, actually, on average, they seem to prefer more intense musical styles, which perhaps reflects inner angst and frustration.”

However, he further expresses astonishment at how people use music in different ways. He says, “some might use it for catharsis, others to change their mood. So there may be subgroups who score high on neuroticism who listen to mellow music for one reason and another subgroup who is more frustrated and perhaps prefer intense music to let off steam.”

Concluding thoughts

As quoted in a media release, Greenberg said, “We were surprised at just how much these patterns between music and personality replicated across the globe. People may be divided by geography, language, and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as introverts elsewhere, that suggests that music could be a very powerful bridge. Music helps people to understand one another and find common ground.”