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Our Musical Preferences Reveal More About Ourselves Than We Know

Have you thought about the kind of person you are based on your musical taste?

Photo by Spencer Imbrock via Unsplash

I’ve always seen music as a wonderful way to enjoy my time. I can either listen to it on my way to work as one would get a cup of coffee. Or I might get into a state of flow while dancing. Or simply play my violin (or piano, whatever I’m in the mood for at the time), and enter into a timeless space of music-making.

And that’s how we usually interact with music in our lives: either as a listener, a dancer, or as a music player. It’s something we find pleasure in but we don’t give it a second thought. Why would we? It’s just music we’re talking about, nothing out of the ordinary. We like it and that’s it.

But what if there’s more to music than that?

What if music can reveal so much about people, that just by knowing what you listen to, you learn how people think, feel, and behave?
Several studies (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003; Rentfrow, Goldberg, & Levitin, 2011; Rentfrow, Goldberg, Stillwell, Kosinski, Gosling, & Levitin, 2012; Bonneville-Roussy, Rentfrow, Xu, & Potter, 2013; Greenberg, Baron-Cohen, Stillwell, Kosinski, & Rentfrow, 2015) show that our personality traits are deeply related to the kind of music we listened to.

We can either look at people’s musical tastes and predict their personality, or we can first learn about their character and from then on get a good idea about their musical taste.

It’s a two-way street.

Would you like to find out what’s your personality/preference group? Let’s put the Sorting Hat and look at which of these 5 main types would you fit in.

Refined Observer

Personality traits: people in this group are very curious about their surroundings and analyze it creatively.

They’re open to new ideas and like to observe and examine them. They’re usually more inclined to look into their inner world rather than seek other people. You may say that it’s mostly an abstract-driven search for new things.

Musical taste: they’re motivated to explore the conceptual idea of music. That is, musical structure, song development, performance, and other music-related things.

They search for genres that are more complex to listen to (e.g. rich harmonies and melodies), that are usually of a slower pace, and those that express both positive and negative emotions.

Genres listened to in this group: classical (opera and/or instrumental), jazz, blues, and folk music.

Heated Defiant

Personality traits: they’re risk-takers and rebellious. It’s part of their search for new experiences and wanting to feel alive.

They also feel intensely. They might not show it, but emotions are bursting inside them.

They’re open-minded and creative, and avoid having a routine. Or if they do, they try to make changes so that at least it doesn’t feel that way.

Musical taste: they like moderately complex music. That is, music that emphasizes fast rhythms, that’s energetic, and highlights particularly negative emotions like sadness or angriness. But that doesn’t mean they’re emotionally unstable or neurotic.

They like to listen to electric and distorted instruments (e.g. electric guitar), and enjoy music when it’s loud, percussive, and relies on a heavy bass sound.

Genres listened to in this group: rock, heavy metal, and/or grunge music.

Easy-Going Conventional

Personality traits: they’re friendly and warm towards others. They get along with others easily and value social harmony.

They have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe that people are decent and trustworthy and they’ll actively seek to help others.

They’re social beings and are oriented towards others rather than exploring their inner world. They are more conservative about their ideals and value how things are right now.

Musical taste: they seek musical pieces that are simply structured, direct, and those that express positive emotions (cheerfulness, romance).

They prefer a moderate-paced rhythm for their musical songs and like both acoustical and electric instruments. It’s better if there’s no heavy bass or distortion in the songs they listen to.

Genres listened to in this group: pop, country, and religious music.

Outgoing Mingler

Personality traits: they’re sociable, open-minded, and tend to be more extroverted. They enjoy being around others and actively participate in social gatherings. You’ll see them both in small events as well as in big crowded places.

They tend to be talkative, energetic, and very friendly. They trust others and like to lend a hand when they can.

Musical taste: they look for musical pieces that enhance rhythm, usually of a moderate tempo.

Their musical preferences lean towards music that has both instrumental and vocal pieces and those that heavily rely on electric instruments. They like a heavy bass sound and especially percussive instruments, because those induce them to dance and mingle with each other.

Genres listened to in this group: hip-hop/rap, funk, and reggaeton.

Serene Enjoyer

Personality traits: they seek new experiences and are interested in unusual things.

They’re creative and usually reside more in an abstract world so they’re less grounded and not very practical. They simply enjoy it too much to care about mundane things.

They tend to be relaxed and adapt very well to different circumstances. Go with the flow might be their motto.

Musical taste: they like unusual sounds (e.g. exotic instruments or weird synth sounds), and like listening to music that shares positive emotions (e.g. optimism, romance). They’re all about being in a nice environment that nurtures their good side.

They like both acoustic and electric sounds, but especially the former. In addition, they prefer slow-paced music that’s smooth and relaxing.

Genres listened to in this group: world music, soft rock, and electronica/dance.

So where to from now on?

Photo by Dayne Topkin via Unsplash

These 5 types are based on the research of Rentfrow & Gosling (2003) who found that certain musical features are deeply interwoven with specific personality types. These authors then revisited these categories almost 10 years later and confirmed their findings (Rentfrow et al., 2012).

Moreover, additional authors (Bonneville-Roussy et al., 2013) described how these clusters change throughout our life-span. Some relationships between musical preferences and personality types are more prominent during adolescence, other during young adulthood, and then some throughout middle adulthood.

And if you want to add even more variables to the equation, these authors (Greenberg et al., 2015) found that our musical taste is related to how we process music. Certain biases determine the type of music we chose to listen to. It’s like having eyes for one muse only.

Therefore, not only can we categorize people into certain types, but we can also see how dynamic these groups are during different stages of life. Plus the way we think and analyze information makes us disregard certain genres completely.

Our relationship with music is not as simple as we once thought of. It makes you wonder, right?

Think of how much time we spend listening to and interacting with music. In fact, a study showed that 14% of our waking time is spent in this endeavor. That’s like 3 hours per day!

Music is certainly interwoven into our lives and has a significant influence on the way we think, feel, and behave. And thus, reflects on our personality.

How much influence do you think you can get from something you’re exposed to every day, for weeks, months, and years?

We could use this categorization for many purposes.

We could use it in therapy. People are more open to share their musical experiences with others than talk about their feelings and thought patterns. By analyzing how people interact with music, we can learn the underlying psychological structures that manage that person’s life. It’s another way into the patient’s psyche, as a path of less resistance.

The marketing department could take notice of this too. Customers can be viewed in a different light and sound and music can be used for any of the following outcomes:

  • Purchase intention enhancement
  • Improvement of customer experience
  • Reduction in waiting time assessment
  • Stress release
  • Increase or reduction in retail store movement

And so on.

Actually, my next eBook, soon to be released, will talk about how businesses could get customers hooked through music. But that’s a story for next time.

We have always put people into categories and that’s helped us understand them a little bit more and we’ve been able to do something about it, so why not do it with musical preferences too?

Food for thought.

Now that you’ve seen the 5 main types of music-personality traits, where did the sorting hat put you?

By Pavle Marinkovic on .
Are you curious about the world of sound and music? Learn how music can enhance a plant’s growth, the way sound changes our sense of taste, understand the music industry, and much more! Join my newsletter to embark on this journey of sound awareness.
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