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A New Study Reveals That Musical Preferences Are Linked To Cognitive Styles


Buckley for empathizers


A team of Cambridge University psychologists led by PhD student David Greenberg have analyzed music preferences of 4,000 volunteers and tried to divide them into 2 categories the empathizers and the systemizers… It may sound a bit simplistic, there’s gonna be more than 2 groups among human beings, but when you think about it this notion of empathy is really essential to human personality.

Their results, published  in Plos One, are pretty straightforward: empathizers, who of course respond to others’ emotions, prefer mellow, low energy music such as R&B, soft rock and folk, with negative emotions or emotional depth and dislike intense music… their favorite songwriters? Jeff Buckley or Norah Jones…. Which I would not exactly put in the same category, but that’s another story!

Systemizers on the other hand, analyze everything and like to find rules and patterns in the world around them, and they prefer high-energy music such as punk and metal or even sophisticated jazz with positive emotions and a high degree of cerebral depth and complexity, and like bands such as the Sex Pistols and Metallica.

Greenberg explained: ‘Although people’s music choices fluctuates over time, we’ve discovered a person’s empathy levels and thinking style predicts what kind of music they like…. In fact, their cognitive style – whether they’re strong on empathy or strong on systems – can be a better predictor of what music they like than their personality.’

It has to be noticed that the study recruited its participant through a Facebook questionnaire, and each participant was asked to listen to 50 musical pieces. Greenberg said the research could have implications for the music industry as for example Spotify already tries to determine what music you would listen to, based on your previous listening experience.

‘By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine tune their music recommendations to an individual,’ he added.

Okay, I am not too surprised by the results, and I guess you aren’t either, it sounds a bit obvious at first, but as human beings we are very complex, and although it is probably possible to find a complete systemizer or empathizer, a lot of people fit right in the middle, I like Jeff Buckley and the Sex Pistols, I like some intense music and some mellow one, so who am I? To be fair, Greenberg recognized a third type in his study, the balanced type for individuals with relatively equal scores on both types, and it would be interesting to find out how many people fall into this category, may be the majority of people? I definitively do, and Spotify will never figure out my music preferences.

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