Music Preferences Indicate Personality Traits

Besides individual aesthetic preferences, people may prefer musical genres to “regulate” mood or express self-image.

-*Does personality style shape musical preferences?
-*Does preferred music affect personality?

Peter Jason Rentfrow

Peter Jason Rentfrow

University of Cambridge’s Peter Jason Rentfrow and Samuel Gosling uncovered four music-preference dimensions when they analyzed music preferences of more than 3,500 individuals in six studies:

  • Reflective and Complex
  • Intense and Rebellious
  • Upbeat and Conventional
  • Energetic and Rhythmic

These music-preference categories were related to cognitive abilities like verbal IQ and attitudes like political orientation in addition to Big Five personality dimensions.

In other studies, Rentfrow and Gosling found that musical preference accurately predicted Big Five personality traits including “Openness to Experience”, Extraversion, and Emotional Stability among strangers when they asked same-sex and opposite-sex volunteers with an average age of 18  to “get to know each other” over 6 weeks.

Rentfrow and Gosling found significant correlations between musical genre preferences and Big Five personality characteristics:

  • Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease
  • Jazz: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, at ease, intellectual
  • Classical: High self-esteem, creative, introvert, at ease
  • Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing
  • Opera: High, gentle self-esteem, creative
  • Country and Western: Hardworking, outgoing, emotionally stable
  • Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle, at ease
  • Dance: Creative, outgoing, not gentle
  • Indie: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle
  • Bollywood: Creative, outgoing
  • Rock/heavy metal: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, gentle, at ease, not outgoing,
  • Chart Pop: High self-esteem, hardworking, outgoing, gentle, not creative, not at ease
  • Soul: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease
  • Vocals: Extraverted
Marvin Zuckerman

Marvin Zuckerman

Additional support for the relationship between music preference and personality characteristics came from University of Melbourne’s David Rawlings and Vera Ciancarelli in their study correlating responses on University of Delaware’s Patrick Little and Marvin Zuckerman‘s Music Preference Scale and the NEO Personality Inventory (Revised).

Individuals who scored high on extraversion and women tended to prefer
“Popular Music
” and those who scored high on “Openness to Experience” showed strong “Breadth of Musical Preference.”

This study related “sensation seeking” to musical preferences and confirmed speculation that people who seek greater levels of environmental stimulation through auditory, visual, gustatory, and other experiences tend to like complex, intense music.

High scorers on Sensation Seeking Scale form V preferred Rock music and but not Soundtrack music and those who scored high on Thrill and Adventure Seeking subscale and Experience Seeking subscale liked Folk and Classical music in addition to Rock music.
As might be expected, participants who scored high on the Disinhibition subscale liked Rock but not Religious or Soundtrack music.

Hans Eysenck

Hans Eysenck

“Extraversion” has been related to “sensation seeking” in Hans Eysenck’s seminal research.
Southern Illinois University’s Stephen J. Dollinger demonstrated that people who report behaviors and traits associated with extraversion tend to prefer Jazz, which has “high arousal properties” and those who endorse “excitement seeking” behaviors said they prefer Hard Rock music.

Stephen Dollinger

Stephen Dollinger

These generalizations may change as people age, so Nazarene University College’s Kelley Schwartz and Gregory Fouts of University of Calgary examined 164 adolescents’ music preferences in relation to personality dimensions and developmental issues.

Gregory Fouts

Gregory Fouts

Those who preferred music with “heavy” or “light” qualities reported personality and developmental difficulties, but those who preferred “eclectic” music reported no personality or developmental concerns.

Schwartz and Fouts concluded that adolescents prefer music that reflects personality characteristics and developmental challenges, supporting Renfrow and Gosling’s caveat that results for adult musical preferences may not reflect the same personality characteristics among people in other age groups.

Taken together, these findings on personality trends related to musical preferences among adolescents and adults suggest that when people master specific developmental issues, music relevant to those challenges may no longer be appealing, and preferences may change.

-*To what extent do you prefer music that “regulates” your mood and productivity?

-*How accurately can you infer people’s personality traits from their musical preferences?

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1 thought on “Music Preferences Indicate Personality Traits

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Paul Castle wrote:
    An interesting study. I am curious, if a person changes the type of music they like, does it have any influence on their personality? I am of course aware of the impact of music on state.

    Kathryn Welds responded:
    Thanks for pointing out the question of causality.
    These studies document correlation but not causality, and you raise an important point about the impact of exposure to various musical genres.
    As noted in the blog post, researchers suggest that changing musical preferences reflect changes in developmental mastery, and perhaps related personality traits.
    Researchers did not comment on whether exposure to non-preferred musical genres are associated with increased preference, and whether exposure can lead listeners to respond to Big Five personality inventories differently than before exposure to new types of music.
    Paul Castle wrote:
    Thanks Kathryn for your insightful response. My curiosity remains. Perhaps another study. if you have any suggestions for published articles or books on this subject please let me know.
    Thanks again

    Kathryn Welds responded:
    The question of causal relationships between music preference and personality appears unresolved, but Isabelle Peretz, Danielle Gaudreau, and Anne-Marie Bonnel considered the impact of exposure to unfamiliar music on preference, which has been related to personality traits in other studies:


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