Music plays an important role in the lives of people all over the world, which is why many wonder what individual factors might influence musical preferences. Could the contents of your playlist, for example, reveal something about your personality?
People listen to music as a way to set the mood, to motivate a workout, or even to gain inspiration. How much are those choices influenced by underlying personality traits?
Personality Traits Linked to Musical Styles
One large-scale study conducted by researchers at Heriot-Watt University looked at more than 36,000 participants from all over the world. Participants were asked to rate more than 104 different musical styles in addition to offering information about aspects of their personalities.
According to the researcher, Adrian North, the reason people sometimes feel defensive about their taste in music might be related to how much it relates to attitudes and personality.
North suggests that people do define themselves through music and use it as a means to relate to other people. His research points to the connection that people often make between who they are as an individual and their musical tastes.
Keep in mind that these are the results published in only one study rather than being replicated and validated by a variety of researchers and different study designs. The following are some of the personality traitsthe study linked to certain musical styles.
Fans of the top 40 pop hits tend to be extroverted, honest, and conventional. While pop music lovers are hardworking and have high self-esteem, researchers suggestthat they tend to be less creative and more uneasy.
Rap and Hip/Hop Music
In spite of the stereotype that rap lovers are more aggressive or violent, researchers have actually found no such link. Rap fans do tend to have high self-esteem and are usually outgoing.
Country music fans are typically hardworking, conventional, and outgoing. While country songs are often centered on heartbreak, people who gravitate towards this genre tend to be very emotionally stable. They also tend to be more conservative and rank lower on the trait of openness to experience.
Rock/Heavy Metal Music
Despite the sometimes aggressive image that rock and heavy metal music project, researchers found that fans of this style of music are usually quite gentle. They tend to be creative, but are often introverted and may suffer from low self-esteem.
Fans of the indie genre are typically introverted, intellectual, and creative. According to researchers, they also tend to be less hardworking and less gentle. Passivity, anxiousness, and low self-esteem are other common personality characteristics.
According to researchers, people who prefer dance music are usually outgoing and assertive. They also tend to rank high on the trait of openness to experience, one of the five major personality traits. People who prefer fast-paced electronic music also tend to rank low on gentleness.
Classical music lovers are typically more introvertedbut are also at ease with themselves and the world around them. They are creative and have a good sense of self-esteem.
Jazz, Blues, and Soul Music
People who enjoy jazz, blues, or soul music were found to be more extroverted with high self-esteem. They also tend to be very creative, intelligent, and at ease.
What the Research Says
A number of studies have found that musical tastes can actually be good predictors of personality traits, yet not all the research agrees.
Predictions of Personality Traits
Research conducted by psychologists Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling suggested that knowing the type of music you listen to can actually lead to surprisingly accurate predictions about your personality.
Researchers found that people could make accurate judgments about an individual's levels of extraversion, creativity, and open-mindedness after listening to 10 of their favorite songs.
Extroverts tend to seek out songs with heavy bass lineswhile those who enjoy more complex styles such as jazz and classical music tend to be more creative and have higher IQ-scores. Rentfrow and Gosling have extended their studies, looking at the different facets of music that can be linked to preferences.
Music and Cognitive Styles
Another study found that the types of music you enjoy may be connected to the ways your brain processes information. Researchers suggest that there are two ways of responding to the world: empathizing involves being able to respond to the world based on social cues, while systemizing involves interacting based upon preset conceptions of how people think they should respond.
In the study, researchers found that people who were empathizers were also more likely to enjoy mellow but emotionally-rich contemporary music, which ranged from indie-rock to country to folk.The systemizers, however, were more likely to prefer complex, intense, energetic music that was upbeat and positive.
The systemizers, who researchers suggest tend to follow career paths in math and science, are more drawn to the structural complexity of the music, often liking classical, jazz, and world music.
Empathizers, who are often drawn more to creative careers or those that involve working with people, are more likely to prefer softer music that evokes strong emotional responses.
Not all research supports the idea that personality traits play a role in determining musical preferences, however. One 2017 meta-analysis found that personality traits played very little of a role in accounting for these individual differences.
Other Factors Also Play a Role
Experts note that personality traits alone do not account for musical preferences. While music is often an important way to express self-identity, research has shown that people listen to music for a variety of purposes.
One study suggested that some of the key psychological functions that music serves include improving performance, stimulating curiosity and imagination, and amplifying certain moods or emotions. Other factors including gender, age, social class, and cultural background also play important roles in musical taste.
A Word From Verywell
The next time you are putting together a playlist to listen to during your commute or workout, consider how your personality might be reflected in your song choices. You might also consider listening to styles of music that you don't normally prefer; research suggests that doing this may actually have a lasting impact on the brain.
The Psychological Benefits of Music
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Greenbert, DM. Baron-Cohen, S, Stillwell, DJ, Kosinski, M, and Rentfrow. PJ. Musical preferences are linked to cognitive styles. PlosONE. 2015. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131151.
North, AC. Individual differences in musical taste. The American Journal of Psychology. 2010; 123(2): 199-208. doi: 10.5406/amerjpsyc.123.2.0199.
Schafer, T & Mehlhorn, C. Can personality traits predict musical style preferences? A meta-analysis. Personality and Individual Differences. 2017 116: 265-273. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2017.04.061.
Wong, PC, Chan, AH, Roy, A, and Margulis, EH. The bimusical brain is not two monomusical brains in one: Evidence from musical affective processing. J Cogn Neurosci. 2011; 23(12): 4082-4093. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00105.
- Rentfrow PJ, Goldberg LR, Stillwell DJ, Kosinski M, Gosling SD, Levitin DJ. The Song Remains the Same: A Replication and Extension of the MUSIC Model. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 2012;30(2):161-185. doi:10.1525/mp.2012.30.2.161.
By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
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Extroverts tend to seek out songs with heavy bass lines while those who enjoy more complex styles such as jazz and classical music tend to be more creative and have higher IQ-scores. Rentfrow and Gosling have extended their studies, looking at the different facets of music that can be linked to preferences.Can you tell someone's personality by their music taste? ›
Studies have shown a link between music preferences and a person's propensity to empathize with others. Researchers have also found a connection between music taste and personality traits.How does music relate to personality? ›
Music is such a core part of culture and everyday experience that it has long been believed to be connected to one's personality. Music, more than any other media, has strong ties to our emotions: music communicates emotion, stirs memory, affects mood, and spurs creativity.How does music make you feel? ›
Our favorite melodies release dopamine, known as the feel-good hormone, which activates our brain's pleasure and reward system. Music can have a positive, immediate impact on our mental state; fast tempos can psychologically and physiologically arouse us, helping energize us for the day.What does it mean to taste music? ›
What is musical taste? It is interesting that the term musical taste is tied to the term aesthetics. Musical taste is often paired together with musical preferences. Most people understand musical taste as one's preferences in music: particular genres, styles, music bands.