“What cannot be put into words, can be expressed through music”
Most individuals listen to music and love it as well. In India itself, we have so many different types of music. Each of us enjoys different kinds of music on different occasions. We dance to Bollywood songs at weddings, enjoy our regional music during festivals as well as rock and roll with modern DJ music. In spite of being exposed to myriad forms of music, we all have in us a preference or an inclination to enjoy a particular song or genre when we are alone. For some, it is a way to cool down, for some a way to relive beautiful memories, and for yet others, it is a form of creative expression. Did you know that this preference for a particular type of music can reveal a lot about an individual? This article uses research studies to help you understand yourself based on your music preference and vice-versa!
Link to Personality Traits
Personality can be assessed based on the Big Five Factor Model- Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Studies have investigated the relationship between these personality traits and the music preferences of individuals. It was found that individuals who scored high on openness to experience (adventurous and creative) and neuroticism (emotional instability) preferred music that was reflective, complex, intense, and rebellious, such as classical and rock music (Langmeyer, Guglhör-Rudan & Tarnai, 2012). Further, neuroticism was also linked to a preference for sad music (Mamta, 2018). Extroverts were found to prefer happy, upbeat, and conventional forms of music, whereas introverts preferred tender music. Other personality traits were not found to have significant relationships with specific types of music (Brown, 2011).
Another model that can be used to understand personality is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This model assesses aspects such as the individual’s favorite world, focus on information, decision-making style, and need for structure. Researchers found interesting links between these personality traits and music preference among undergraduate students. As in the previous study, extraversion was linked with a preference for popular/rock music. Participants, who scored high for intuition, enjoyed more musical styles. They also particularly liked classical music and had greater musical training and involvement when compared to their sensing counterparts. Finally, the thinking-feeling dimension scores were linked to the enjoyment of country and western music (Pearson & Dollinger, 2004).
Link to Cognitive Style
The brain-type or cognitive style of an individual can be understood based on their empathizing and systemizing quotient. This is known as the Empathizing-Systemizing Theory (E-S theory). Empathizing while listening to music is the ability to perceive musical content and react to it both, emotionally and physiologically. Systemizing, on the other hand, is when musical content is analyzed and deconstructed into its sonic features. A research study was conducted to explore the link between music preference and cognitive styles. The findings of the study indicated that those who had high empathizing scores (type E individuals) preferred mellow music that featured low arousal, had emotional depth, and was depressing or sad. Those with high systemizing scores (type S individuals) preferred intense music such as punk, heavy metal, and hard rock, as they enjoyed the music that provided high arousal, was complex and animated or positive (Greenberg, Baron-Cohen, Stillwell, Kosinski & Rentfrow, 2015).
Link to Emotions
Individuals who listen to music may well be aware that their choice of a song depends on their mood. This idea is further supported by a research study. This study was conducted to examine the impact of participants’ moods on their music preference, without listening to the music itself. The results of the study indicated that individuals in a sad mood were inclined to listen to sad and slow music but showed no aversion to happy music. When individuals were in a happy mood, they preferred to listen to happy and fast music but when in a neutral mood, participants did not consistently prefer neutral music. Further, participants were averse to sad music when they were in a happy or neutral mood (Xue, Li, Yin, Zhu & Tan, 2018).
Link to Psychological Health
Mental or psychological health refers to one’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The music preferences of an individual can help us understand his/her mental health. A research study examined the relationship between music preference and psychological health among high school students. Those who preferred rock/metal music expressed suicidal thoughts, acts of deliberate self-harm, depression, delinquency, drug-taking, and family dysfunction. Further, the most disturbed participants were identified as those who felt sadder after listening to the music of their preference (Martin, Clarke & Pearce, 1993).
Another study supported the above findings by stating that preference for heavy metal music was associated with prior suicidal ideation. However, preference for country and western music was not associated with depression or suicidal ideation (Lester & Whipple, 1996). An understanding of music preference as an indication of mental health can be used to ensure timely intervention and support for individuals who seem vulnerable.
Next time you hear someone listening to music, you might be able to make a much more meaningful inference out of their music preference!