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Science can tell your personality type from your music taste

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Scientists have more fully defined the link between music tastes and personality type.

Research has shown that musical preferences and personality are linked but little is known about other influences such as thinking styles.

The latest study shows more empathetic people prefer mellower music such as soft rock and jazz while the more analytical tend toward intense music such as punk and heavy metal.

The researchers say the findings could have implications for the treatment of autism where people often struggle to empathise with others.

“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,” says David Greenberg from the Department of Psychology at the the University of Cambridge.

“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.”

The researchers conducted multiple studies with more than 4,000 people recruited mainly through the myPersonality Facebook app.

They used the empathizing–systemizing theory to measure a person’s strength of interest in empathy, in understanding others, and that of systems, more about analysis.

Those who scored high on empathy preferred music with low energy with gentle, reflective, sensual, and warm elements, or negative emotions with sad and depressing characteristics, or emotional depth with poetic, relaxing, and thoughtful features.

Those who scored high on systemising preferred music with high energy and strong, tense, and thrilling elements, or positive emotions and which also featured a high degree of cerebral depth and complexity.

The researchers believe the following songs will likely fit particular styles:

High on empathy

  • Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
  • Come away with me – Norah Jones
  • All of me – Billie Holliday
  • Crazy little thing called love – Queen

High on systemizing

  • Concerto in C – Antonio Vivaldi
  • Etude Opus 65 No 3 — Alexander Scriabin
  • God save the Queen – The Sex Pistols
  • Enter Sandman – Metallica

David Greenberg, a trained jazz saxophonist, says the research could have implications for the music industry.

“A lot of money is put into algorithms to choose what music you may want to listen to, for example on Spotify and Apple Music,” he says. “By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine tune their music recommendations to an individual.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS One.

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