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"Indie listeners are lazy" - Are our musical tastes really related to our personality?

In the age of the internet and the constant search for an explanation as to why you just can't get your life right, there is probably not a single area that has not yet been associated with our personalities. Not only the shape of our foreheads, but also the way we put on our bras says more about our personality than you might think.

I have no idea whether they are driven by constant curiosity, or whether they did not pass the medical entrance test and therefore studied psychology (involuntarily and desperately), but there are people who deal with the subject on a scientific level, carry out entire studies and write books about it.

Like scientists Jason Rentfrow and Gideon Nave, who claim that personality tells us about taste in music. For their study, they interviewed 22,252 people from different countries, different age groups and with different backgrounds via the Internet. People first had to take a personality test and then rate a series of music samples.

"Compatible, considerate, emphatic people rated every music sample well, regardless of the genre."

For the personality test, the Big Five model was used, which divides the personality into five dimensions: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, tolerance and neuroticism. For the musical test, the MUSIC model was used, which differentiates between "soft", "simple", "demanding", "intense" and "contemporary" music.

  • People who are open to experience and are open-minded tend to listen to "demanding" music (complex and dynamic, for example: classical, jazz) and do not like "soft" (romantic and slow eg: soft rock, R'n'B) or "Contemporary" (striking and not melancholy, e.g. rap, EDM, pop) music.
  • Extroverted, sociable people prefer "simple" music (uncomplicated, acoustic, e.g. country music).
  • Sociable, considerate, emphatic people rated every music sample well, regardless of the genre.
  • With the people who were associated with neuroticism, that is, vulnerable and emotionally unstable people, they did exactly the opposite: that is, rated everything negatively.
  • Conscientiousness and perfectionism could in no way be linked to the musical preferences.

With this result, the study is probably just as informative as the note in a fortune cookie. But what should you expect from an investigation that puts rap and EDM in one category? It is nice to see that they have dispensed with conventional genre labels, because rock music, for example, is not the same as "rock music" and prejudices against certain types of music would probably distort the result from the outset. Nevertheless, I question the result of this study more than the result of my personality test on "Which biblical character matches your personality" (The result was "Jesus" - probably because I stated that I would like to be able to turn water into wine ).

But it can be worse. Conservative. Like this study, for example, the genres of music associated with attributes such as "works hard" or "does not work hard". People who listen to country music and pop music work hard, according to the study, the opposite is true of people who listen to reggae, indie or rock. People who listen to dance / electronica are supposedly positive people, while people who listen to indie have low self-esteem. Probably many of us have prejudices against people who listen to certain types of music (consciously or unconsciously). But if a guy with a professor's and doctor's degree does a study that creates prejudice, then it will only be more difficult for us to encounter every genre of music like Mother Teresa.

Yes, the human personality is complex, and the question of how to scientifically assess a person's musical tastes is probably almost as complex. I therefore admire it very much when people even try to face these issues. Still, I wonder how much sense such a study actually makes. After all, taste in music is influenced by so many other things - the people around you, your origin, your age, the experiences you had in your childhood (Freud 4-EVER lol).

To make sure that I am not simply too critical or maybe even rated everything as negative based on my personality, I contacted Dr. Thomas Schäfer, who conducts research in the field of further development of psychological research methods and analysis processes, will talk about the topic.

Noisey: Do you think music tastes are related to personality and if so why the hell and how?
Dr. Thomas Schäfer: Only to a very small extent. There are actually personality traits - such as sensation seeking (the need for physiologically highly stimulating activities) - that are related to the preference for certain music. For example heavy metal. In addition, the relationships between personality and music preferences are statistically extremely small and not at all clear across various studies.

What other factors besides personality influence taste in music?
By far the most important factor is age. Then comes the personal learning story: Where and when did I grow up and which music was predominant in my personal context? What did my parents, and later my peers, hear? Did I have music lessons? Did I learn an instrument or did I play in a band?

Are there other factors as well?
Yes, the so-called musical functions, i.e. the goals that are pursued by listening to music, are just as important. Right at the top is the regulation of emotions - if my music helps me to get in a good mood, to switch off or to indulge in memories, I will like this music. There are many of these functions. I think it doesn't matter what music it is; fulfilling these functions can be done with (almost) any music.

Adrian North's study says that, for example, people who listen to indie music don't work hard. But there are also positive associations. Do you think that such studies generate prejudice and if so, are they justified? After all, they are based on a scientific basis.
You have to be extremely careful here, as such studies only show correlations. From a purely statistical point of view, correlations will always be found in a large number of variables. That doesn't mean at all that these variables automatically have something to do with each other causally. Firstly, these correlations are usually very small and, secondly, they can simply be coincidences or the effects of completely different background variables. You don't know any of that and therefore it is difficult or even impossible to derive a meaningful statement from such correlations. And yes, of course that kind of thing leads to prejudice. But that is completely unjustified and from my point of view also irresponsible.

What do you think of the categorizations in the first of the two studies?
In research you have to categorize. You always have to simplify in order to be able to derive statements. The categorization of music or personality works quite well here.

In general, what do you think of Jason Rentfrow's study?
About this study (and all other studies around Jason Rentfrow): This working group never tires of claiming that there are connections between personality and music preference and that one can predict one from the other. But that's not true. The relationships are really very small, with a few exceptions and not clear across different studies. In other words, if you know the personality of people, you can only predict a few percent of the variation in musical taste. To see what percentage exactly, we have (Note: he and Claudia Mehlhorn) made a meta-analysis that incorporated all studies on personality and music preference. We found that on average only about 3.5 percent can be explained or predicted. In other words: the personality is not really good for predicting the taste in music.

Now aside from those studies, quite often you come across personality tests or articles that talk about the impact of personality on other areas. Why are we generally so curious about our personality?
I think we all want to know about ourselves. That is why such simple psychological results (which are often much too flat and sweeping) are always very interesting for us. Actually, we would all like to have a good friend who always tells us what he really thinks of us and what he thinks of us - good and bad. Such studies (at least their popular reporting) provide something like this. Second, we always want to look good in social interaction, that is, we want to present a certain image. We therefore pay very close attention to what certain preferences or behaviors might reveal about us. What does someone think when they know that I like jazz? This information can be very important for my self-presentation, but also for your self-worth.

If you are interested in the topic, you can find studies by Dr. Read through Thomas Schäfer.


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