Music>>Personality *OR* Personality>>Music?


Whenever I want to get to know someone, or want to understand him or her better, I find myself curious about what type of music they listens too. More so than preferences for books, shows, or other activities, music seems to give the best window into who someone is. So, does music influence personality, or personality influence music? I've always wondered.

Online, there is a lot of garbage on this topic, but surprisingly several in depth studies as well. The most helpful I found was the sixth in a series of studies done by The University of Texas called "Examining the Relationship Between Music Preference and Personality". Leading up to this, the researches conducted surveys and tests to first identify 4 dimensions of music preferences:

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They then characterized these into different musical attributes. After this, they measured self-views, personality, and cognitive ability of college students (using IQ tests and surveys where each test subject rated on a scale of 5 how they felt about a certain statement).

It turns out all musical preference seems to depend on the different arousal levels of the individual. Music is a stimulus, and arousal is a general excitatory process. There are many theories that connect arousal, complexity and behavior together. This can be found  here.

The theory that I looked at was that of Berlyne. It basically states that people prefer aesthetic stimuli that place them at their optimal arousal level- aka it is not to complex a stimuli for their cognitive skills, but not too simple of a stimuli that it leaves them bored. This can be applied to any type of art, including music. As we all know, different musical genres offer different levels of complexity, there for people like music based off of what they can understand, but still be stimulated by. The greater the cognitive ability of an individual, the higher their optimum arousal rate is, so the more complex music they prefer (and vice versa).

What they found was specific music styles may be used by people to make identity claims about themselves. This was evident across the board. People who scored more conservatively in regards to their self-views chose conventional music, which highly contrasts persons with athletic self-views who chose vigorous music.

It also found people who preferred cheerful music with vocals (this falls into the Upbeat and Conventional dimension of figure 6) showed a positive relation to extroversion, and that people who preferred intricate and artistic music (Reflective and Complex in figure 6) were positively related to openness to new experiences. So, in general, music can draw strong conclusions about an individual's personality. This can be pushed as far as predicting someone's political views and socio-economic standing: 

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Other studies showed  strong correlations between personal choices and preferred musical genre in 36000 people from 6 different countries. A professor at Scotland's Heriot-Watt University named Adrian North conducted it. Some of the correlations he listed were:

"- Jazz fans seem to be creative and outgoing and have high self-esteem - this is in line with the innovative and sociable nature of jazz.

- Country western fans were found to be introverted and hard working.

- Rap fans are outgoing aggressive.

- Blues fans have high self-esteem and are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease

- Reggae listeners have High self-esteem, are creative, not hardworking outgoing, gentle and at ease‚Ä®

- Rave music listeners are creative, outgoing but aggressive

- Pop music fans are not very creative but hardworking, outgoing, gentle and generally not at ease

- Soul fans generally have high self-esteem and are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease

- Indie music lovers lack both self-esteem and the work ethic."

Of course, other variables come into play- like an individuals age, location, and peers- so musical preference cant only be attributed to ones own mind. But, these correlations were true for individuals across the six countries, so I am deducing that music preference is more largely dependent on the individual rather than their contexts.

Looking at all of these results, it appears music more so depends on personality than personality on music. In order to be influenced by a song, one must first be drawn to the song, and that all depends on the optimal arousal level of that specific individual. That is why general preferences and self-views are largely, if not completely, the same among people who prefer the same styles of music. Preferring the same style of music means people have similar cognitive abilities, giving them a stronger bond no matter where they are from or who they are.


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Very interesting blog! I agree with your conclusion that music is dependent on personality moreso than personality being dependent on music. That is a perfect explanation for why people who are generally alike tend to enjoy the same type of music.

In this study, the reverse causation would of course be that music has an effect on our personalities. While I do believe this is true, I feel this is more of a short-term thing. Therefore, I don't think a type of music can effect something as large as our personalities, but rather it can have a temporary effect on our mood. Some obvious examples: a song can brighten or worsen our moods, remind of us a fond or bad memory, etc. I don't believe that the music we lsiten to day to day is a powerful enough stimuli to effect our overall personalities. Thus, it makes more sense that our stimulus capabilities that correlate with our personalities are what determine the kind of music we like -- and why this situation is NOT vice versa.

An article on the Daily Page explained that some music can have an effect on mood because when music stimulates our peak arousal (like you mentioned), dopamine (a feel good neurotransmitter) is realeased in the brain. It is in this manner that music tends to affect our mood.

I've always been a heavy listener of music of all genres and from my personal experience I tend to believe that your personality is formed by your music taste. When most look at their music taste, they can trace it back to their young, developmental days. As a young kid, you tend to look for new role models to emulate every day. I would always try to be as cool as my favorite artist. As your brain is developing, you look at these artists and think to yourself, "this is the way I should act and present myself if I want to be like them one day" because celebrities are our biggest role models when growing up. As the years progress and we mature, we carry this mentality with us. That's not to say that our personalities don't influence our music taste. However, I believe that our personalities are first formed by the music we originally listen to. This makes it easy to say that people with personality X listen to music genre X. But I think that by looking at the long term effects, the foundation of our personality can be partially attributed to our music taste.

Awesomely relevant article. When they talk about childhood education in it, and how some studies show certain music such as mozart may make you smarter, it actually made me think of one of my previous blogs :

Because of the way the brain must reason and function, many think learning to play an instrument in adolescence can make you smarter. That is an argument that music does in fact influence our personalities- if you consider intelligence an aspect of that.

I wish I had seen this article before my blog! It raises so many new angles- like how the actual history of the musician may cause us to react to the music differently, or that musical preference is formed before birth- I guess this would correlate with my blog on how music is dependent on one's mental cognition (but before birth does this cognition even exist?)

I still agree that music may have a more temporary effect on our mood or outlook, but cant ignore all of the studies that show our musical preference is almost beyond our control.

I used to think the same thing. Now, though, I wonder if it is just our intuition talking when we make our own claims about why things are the way they are. If there is anything Andrew taught us, it's that our intuition is lousy.

In the first link I gave, the researches give credit to multiple things for determining our music taste: our personalities, self views, and cognitive abilities. When you examine the science behind it, there has to be an initial reason why we select a song or genre to like. If not, then the first song we heard in our youth would determine the rest of our life.

Surely when we are young, we are more greatly influenced by our societies or our parents than our own opinions, so I do agree that music taste when you re young can greatly shape our interests, or what we think is cool. But once we are old enough to think for ourselves is when our cognitive levels and self views come more into play. I dont know about you, but my music taste now is certainly VERY different from when I was in elementary school.

Also, what if someone didnt listen to music in adolescence? Would they then have no personality?
P.S. I love discussing this with you guys it's a really cool concept

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