Are Personality Traits Matching A Specific Song?
Are personality traits matching a specific song?
We often wonder why we love a certain song and it never becomes a success, or why certain songs are streamed by millions of people while you don’t care about them. I know that I do. Music tastes are quite mysterious and the subject of plenty of research. It has been often suggested that music tastes and personality are linked, and since the development of streaming platforms, providing personalized playlists, this subject has been even more explored than before.
We have a lot of preconceived ideas and stereotypes about music tastes and character but the abundance of articles discussing the subject claim that your music tastes indeed tell a lot about your personality. According to Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK, who did a very extensive study (36,000 people in more than 60 countries), ‘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.’
Of course, genres are very arbitrary and plenty of people like different kinds of music, or songs that are not typically attached to one genre. More than a genre-personality study, I am much more interested in personality traits matching a specific song, whether it is a radio-ready song or the complete opposite. There are a lot of very popular songs that do not do anything to me, and this has little to do with genres as, for example, two songs can fall into the vast category ‘pop’ and have completely different effects on people.
Other complex studies like this one have investigated this, concluding that ‘people are drawn to musical styles that validate their self-perceptions and convey that information to others.’ For example, listening to avant-garde music could reinforce and communicate the belief that you are creative and unconventional. Furthermore, it seems that people prefer styles of music that reinforce their mood or emotional state, so listening to either uplifting or sad music may help to maintain a certain mood and communicate this mood to others. Lastly, music is often complementary to a type of activity, and upbeat music will obviously complement energetic activities.
Another study by David M. Greenberg et al concluded that ‘perceptual processing of music may be an extension of psychological processes that occur in daily life’ and showed that attributes in music can be organized into three basic dimensions: arousal (an immediate emotional response that reflects stimulation or relaxation), valence (musical positiveness conveyed by a track that reflects emotions and moods), and depth (the front-to-back space in a mix that reflects cognitive processes). This should not be a surprise to learn that preferences for low arousal can be associated with agreeableness and conscientiousness, preferences for negative valence (sad music) can be associated with neuroticism (people with high scores on neuroticism are moody), and preferences for positive valence (happy music) and depth can be associated with openness.
This other study, by David M. Greenberg et al, focused on Empathy-Systemizing cognitive styles, empathy being the ‘ability to identify, predict, and respond appropriately to the mental states of others’ and systemizing being the ability to ‘identify, predict, and respond to the behavior of systems by analyzing the rules that govern them.’ They found that people who are type E (bias towards empathizing) preferred relatively low energy, low arousal (gentle, warm, and sensual attributes) music with emotional depth (poetic, relaxing, and thoughtful), and negative valence (depressing and sad songs): this covers genres like soft rock, R&B/soul, adult contemporary with a preference for strings. On the other hand, people who are type S (bias towards systemizing) preferred intense, high arousal (strong, tense, and thrilling) music with some aspects of positive valence (animated) and cerebral depth (complexity) covering a spectrum as large as punk, heavy metal, and hard rock. However, it was not found that systemizers prefer music on the sophisticated dimension, and that was interesting.
Of course, we are often a mix of E-S and those who have equal scores on both are type B (balanced), whereas, unsurprisingly, more females are classified as type E and more males are classified as type S; autistic people are classified as ‘extreme type S. If you want to know your own Empathizing Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient (SQ), you can take this long questionnaire, developed by Simon Baron-Cohen (Sacha’s cousin). I took it and my E score was significantly higher than my S score, which means that, of course, I enjoy emotional and sad songs. But since I also like some intense music, things are certainly much more complicated than this. Many more studies are needed and further investigation may bring more answers. If music preferences are certainly associated with personality traits and psychological characteristics, I am not sure we will ever able to decipher why certain people never like the most popular songs.