Your Musical Tastes Tells Everyone How Your Brain Operates

Can your musical tastes give the world insight into how your brain works? Why, yes. Yes, it can. Your playlists and favourites indicate how you think. From CNET:

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, led by Ph.D. student David Greenberg, may have come up with a way to determine how people think based on their musical preferences, using studies of over 4,000 participants, according to a statement from the university.

The psychologists who oversaw the study published a paper of their findings on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

The study sought out music fans through a Facebook personality test app called myPersonality. They gave each participant a questionnaire that measured certain personality traits using an assessment called the Revised NEO Personality Inventory that looks at personalities along with five traits including neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness, according to the study.

Then sometime later, the participants received a second survey about their musical preferences. Each participant rated 15-second song excerpts from 50 different songs that represented 26 different genres and subgenres of music, according to the study.

Researchers compared the results from both studies to determine if they exhibited any patterns across the participant pool. The study says that those with a more empathetic nature enjoy genres of music that are more mellow, such as R&B and soft rock, “unpretentious” such as country and folk, and contemporary such as acid jazz and Euro pop. Those with a more “systematic” way of thinking who focus more on structure and rules in their thought patterns enjoy music that’s more intense.

Right away I’m suspicious. I’m in no way a fan of R&B, soft rock, country and folk yet I’d like to think I’m extremely empathetic. At the same time, though, I agree that I’m structured in my thinking, which goes well with my love for heavy and intense music.

Meanwhile over at The Daily Beast, they have this to say about the study.

Hate punk rock? Despise country? Science can explain.

A groundbreaking University of Cambridge study published in PLOS ONEWednesday has linked the type of music we like to something deeper than age or personality: the way we think.

Led by Ph.D. student and jazz saxophonist David Greenberg, researchers discovered a strong link between certain ways of thinking and the type of music an individual prefers. Their findings suggest cognitive styles may be an equally important indicator of music preference as demographics—if not more.

Over 4,000 people participated in the study, all of them recruited through a Facebook app called MyPersonality. Each was instructed to fill out a 60-item self-reporting psychology questionnaire, which relied on a 4-point scale. Once finished, participants were directed to listen to and rate 50 different musical pieces, stemming from 26 genres and subgenres.

Researchers then paired two specific cognitive styles with the music rankings. The first is empathy, which they define as “our ability to recognize and react to the thoughts and feelings of others.” The second, systemizing, is described as “our interest in understanding the rules of underpinning systems such as the weather, music, or car engines.”


“Although people’s music choices fluctuate over time, we’ve discovered a person’s empathy levels and thinking style predict what kind of music they like,” writes Greenberg, who’s studying to get his Ph.D. at Cambridge’s Department of Psychology. “In fact, their cognitive style—whether they’re strong on empathy or strong on systems—can be a better predictor of what music they like than their personality.”

Uh-huh. Right. Read the rest of the story here. Any discrepancies in your experience?

(Via Andrew and CNET as well as The Daily Beast)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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