New research from around the world suggests that an individual’s favorite music genre is closely linked to his or her personality.
Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK, has undertaken the largest study so far of musical tastes and personality type. He is an expert on music psychology and has carried out extensive research on the social and applied psychology of music, in particular the relationship between pop music culture and deviant behavior in adolescence, music and consumer behavior, and the role of musical preference in everyday life.
Over the course of three years, Professor North asked more than 36,000 people in more than 60 countries to rate a wide range of musical styles in order of preference. Certain aspects of personality were also measured by questionnaire.
The results showed:
Blues fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease
Jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing and at ease
Classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introvert and at ease
Rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing
Opera fans have high self-esteem, are creative and gentle
Country and western fans are hardworking and outgoing
Reggae fans have high self-esteem, are creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease
Dance fans are creative and outgoing but not gentle
Indie fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard working, and not gentle
Bollywood fans are creative and outgoing
Rock/heavy metal fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease
Chart pop fans have high self-esteem, are hardworking, outgoing and gentle, but are not creative and not at ease
Soul fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle, and at ease
North said he wanted to study why music is such a significant part of people’s identity.
“People do actually define themselves through music and relate to other people through it but we haven’t known in detail how music is connected to identity,” he said. “We have always suspected a link between music taste and personality. This is the first time that we’ve been able to look at it in real detail. No one has ever done this on this scale before.”
People may define their musical identity by wearing particular clothes, going to certain pubs, and using certain types of slang. So it’s not so surprising that personality should be related to musical preference. “We really got the sense that people were selecting musical styles to like that match their own personality,” North said.
He believes that his results show why people can get defensive about what they like to listen to, as it is likely to be profoundly linked to their outlook on life. The study also demonstrates the “tribal function” of musical taste that can explain why people often bond over music.
North noted that classical and heavy metal music both attracts listeners with similar personalities but dissimilar ages. Younger members of the personality group apparently go for heavy metal, while their older counterparts prefer classical. However, both have the same basic motivation: to hear something dramatic and theatrical, a shared “love of the grandiose,” he said.
“The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and being a danger to themselves and society in general,” he said, “but they are quite delicate things. Aside from their age, they’re basically the same kind of person [as a classical music fan]. Lots of heavy metal fans will tell you that they also like Wagner, because it’s big, loud and brash. There’s also a sense of theater in both heavy rock and classical music, and I suspect that this is what they’re really trying to get at when they listen.”
North is now seeking participants for an online questionnaire exploring the same topic. To take part in the research visit http://peopleintomusic.com
North, A. C. and Hargreaves, D. J. (2008). The social and applied psychology of music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
North, A. C., Desborough, L., and Skarstein, L. (2005). Musical preference, deviance, and attitudes towards celebrities. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 1903-1914.