Is your Spotify collection a compilation of mellow melodies and soft rock? Or do you have Apple Music playlists full of heavy metal and punk? Your answer could be an indicator of whether you are more of an emphatic or analytic person, according to a new study.
A team of psychologists at the University of Cambridge studied the relationship between musical preference and personality types, using a gauge known as “empathasizing/systemizing.” At one end of the spectrum are “Type E” people who are highly empathetic, with a “tendency to perceive and react to the emotional and mental states of others.” At the other end are “Type S” people who can “identify, predict, and respond to the behavior of systems by analyzing the rules that govern them.” “Type B” people are in the middle.
Even after controlling for age, gender, and other factors, empathizers were more fond of mellow songs like Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” Norah Jones’s “Come away with me,” and Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Systemizers preferred intense genres like punk and heavy metal, like the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman“
The researchers looked at more than 4,000 participants and their personality questionnaires. They were asked to listen to and rate 50 musical pieces. To avoid taste bias and personal association with the songs, instead of asking the participants what music they preferred, the team offered them a library with tracks representing 26 different genres and sub-genres. The selection included Vivaldi, Louis Armstrong, Beastie Boys, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt, Rage Against the Machine or The Stooges.
The research found that empathizers preferred music featuring “low arousal (gentle, warm, and sensual attributes), negative valence (depressing and sad), and emotional depth (poetic, relaxing, and thoughtful).” Rhythm and blues, soul and soft rock were their favorite genres.
Systemizers ”preferred music that featured high arousal (strong, tense, and thrilling), and aspects of positive valence (animated) and cerebral depth (complexity).” These characteristics are associated with punk, heavy metal, and hard rock.
Cambridge’s David Greenberg, a trained jazz saxophonist and lead author of the study, suggested 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 said. “By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine tune their music recommendations to an individual.”