Music Preferences Can Reveal Personalities

A new friend of yours likes jazz and you think that he or she is intellectual as a result. Sometimes, this could be a stereotype, but this is generally an accurate inference. Research has found that newly acquainted people like to talk about music because the type of music we like say a lot about ourselves. Most importantly, we are fairly competent at inferring other people’s personalities from their music preferences. So what music do you like?

Have you ever wondered how strangers become acquaintances, and eventually friends, or how and why do you like or dislike a person only after a brief encounter? Past research and a bit of common sense have told us that we form an impression of a person based on a wide range of cues (physical appearance, nonverbal behaviour, facial features, clothing etc.).

However, we still don’t understand how verbal communication—talking—influences people’s impressions of one other. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and University of Texas at Austin believe that discussions on music likings can reveal a great deal about individuals’ personalities. Consistent with this view, they have found that 9 out of 10 dating sites ask users about their music preferences.

If music preferences are so informative, we would expect newly acquainted people to often engage in music-related conversations. The researchers found that among young adults (psychology undergraduates), music is by far the most common conversation topic—almost 60% of the participants in a study talked about music when they first got acquainted!

In another experiment, participants’ personalities were measured and they were then asked to list their top-10 favourite songs. They also had to provide information about specific features (e.g., tempo) and the genre of each song (e.g., classical). Next, observers who had no contact with these participants were asked to make personality judgements of these participants based on their favourite songs.

As expected, observers were relatively accurate in making certain personality inferences such as openness, extraversion, and imagination. Detailed analysis revealed that extraversion was related to the genre of music, the amount of energy, enthusiasm, and singing in the song. However, they were simply hopeless at making judgements of certain personality attributes like degree of ambition and self-respect.

One might wonder whether it is possible to create the compilation which lists how personality traits and values are related to music preferences. Theoretically, that seems plausible, but in reality it would be nothing but a meaningless encyclopaedia of music stereotypes, considering that music preferences are shaped by many environmental factors.

It may be senseless to constantly look for relations between music preferences and personality traits. However, these studies certainly suggest that we can rely on our gut feelings, or if you prefer, our intuition, to better understand other people. Therefore, a little common sense and a bit of intuition can go a long way in helping us make personality inferences.

Any comments? Or do you have friends who like exotic music and have unique personalities? Share them below.

Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2006). Message in a ballad: The role of music preferences in interpersonal perception. Psychological Science, 17(3), 236–42. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01691.x

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