What do your musical tastes reveal about your personality?

Tell me what you listen to and I’ll tell you who you are. This is at least what a recent study by a team from the University of Cambridge and led by David Greenberg, doctor of psychology and musician, indicates. The results, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (source 1) suggest that our musical tastes are more a matter of personality than cultural factors.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers played different styles of so-called “Western” music to 350,000 people living in 53 countries on six continents. First, each participant had to complete a questionnaire to self-assessment of character according to five main traits: open-minded, conscientious, sociable, neurotic and extroverted.

Study participants were then asked to classify twenty-three musical genres according to their preference, then to listen to and classify short excerpts from 16 genres and sub-genres of “Western” music.

Ed Sheeran, Marvin Gaye, Nirvana or Nina Simone?

At the end of their experiment, the researchers came to the conclusion that musical preferences bring together individuals with common personality traitsregardless of their origin, language, culture or country of residence.

We were surprised to see how much these patterns between music and personality reproduced around the world, David Greenberg pointed out.

  • extroverted people from all over the world would prefer rhythmic music such as electro, dance, rap, Latin rhythms or European pop, Shivers of Ed Sheeran for example.
  • conscientious and sociable people, would prefer soft, melodic, even romantic music (folk or romantic rock), such as What’s going on by Marvin Gaye, Shallow of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper or even Space Oddityby David Bowie.
  • Neurotic peoplethey would rather be fond of intense musical styles characterized by aggressiveness and rebellious themes – such as Killing in the Name of Rage against the Machine or Smells Like Teen Spirit of Nirvana.
  • Finally, open-minded people would rather be attracted to complex pieces whether classical, jazz, old rock or “world music”, such as feeling good by Nina Simone.

Music, a powerful vehicle for social bonding

“People can be divided by geography, language and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as introverts elsewhere, that suggests that music could be a very powerful bridge. It could help people understand each other and find common ground,” said David Greenberg.

In other words, the links between musical preferences and personality would therefore be universal and music could be a powerful vehicle for overcoming social divisions.

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