Updated: Jul 29, 2022
Have you ever wondered why you love pop music while your friend can't get enough of jazz? Research might be able to explain.
Music has been an integral part of human culture for thousands of years. The oldest musical instrument discovered so far, a flute from southwestern Germany, dates back at least 42,000 years (Higham et al., 2012). From an evolutionary standpoint, the innate potential for music may have developed because of its properties to improve parent-infant bonding and help humans acquire language, understand the world, and organize socially (Hodges, 2020). While researchers are working to provide theories and frameworks for how musicality developed in humans in history, how humans use music today is still being studied. There should be no doubt that music is of fundamental importance to human culture as a whole and to nearly all individuals as well. Music has never been as accessible to the average person as it is today. The combination of mobile smart phones, digital music streaming platforms, and personal headphones/earbuds, music can be consumed by almost anyone at any time of the day; but how and why are certain genres preferred by different people, and what is the purpose for their music listening? The aim of this paper is to describe the connections between personality, music preference, and use of music.
Personality and the Personality Models
Personality describes the differing thought, emotion, and behavior patterns between individuals. Each person has a unique personality; however, different personality tests have been developed to group personalities into types or measure certain common traits. Two well-known personality models are the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Five-Factor Model, or Big Five. Based on the work of Carl Jung, the MBTI was developed in the 1940s by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. After measuring an individual’s scores on the self-report inventory, the respondent is given one of 16 “types” made up of four letters, each representing one of the four dichotomies used to define each type (Briggs Myers et al., 2003).
The Extraversion (E) – Introversion (I) pair explores whether people gain energy from social interactions or feel recharged after time alone.
The Sensing (S) – Intuition (N) scale identifies whether people gather information about reality through their senses or pay attention to their intuition and imagination.
The Thinking (T) – Feeling (F) dichotomy focuses on how people make decisions, either more emotionally or more logical.
Finally, the Judging (J) – Perceiving (P) scale measures how people interact with the external world, whether with structure and organization, or with flexibility and spontaneity.
Five Dimensions of Personality
While the MBTI is widely popular and well-known, many sources believe that the inventory lacks sufficient reliability and validity. The Big Five Inventory (BFI), however, is generally accepted by the scientific community as a reliable and valid psychological measure. This model measures five dimensions of personality: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Unlike the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory’s dichotomies, the Big Five traits are scored on a spectrum from low to high levels of each trait.
Openness describes how open one is to new experiences and high openness is related to high creativity and curiosity.
Conscientiousness has to do with how thoughtful, disciplined, and detail oriented someone is.
Extraversion measures sociability, how outgoing one is, and how energy is gained.
Agreeableness involves kindness, trust, altruism, and care and empathy for others.
Neuroticism is related to level of emotional stability, stress, and moods.
Both the MBTI and BFI have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses and can be useful in their own ways.
Studies on Personality and Music Preference
Personality has also been shown to be related to music preference and use of music.
In their seminal 2003 journal article, researchers Rentfrow and Gosling included six studies about the correlates of musical preferences. They created the Short Test Of Music Preferences (STOMP) self-report, Likert-type tool measuring music preferences of 14 different genres (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003). Music genres were then broken down into four distinct categories: reflective & complex (RC) made up of classical, jazz, blues, and folk, intense & rebellious (IR) with alternative, rock, and heavy metal, upbeat & conventional (UC) having country, pop, religious, and soundtracks, and energetic & rhythmic (ER) including rap/hip-hop, soul/funk, and electronica/dance. In a later study, Rentfrow, Goldberg, and Levitin (2011) proposed that music preferences can be reduced to mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, and contemporary factors to create the MUSIC model.
When it comes to determining and measuring uses of music, researchers will often create their own scale, but one common tool is the Uses of Music Inventory from Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham’s 2007 study. The self-report questionnaire has 15 items and respondents answer on a five-point Likert-type scale regarding the purpose of their music listening. They found three primary trends to be listening for emotional, cognitive, or background reasons. Each has a unique personality with their own musical preferences and different reasons for listening to music, but what are some common themes connecting these topics?
As much of the current research is based off Rentfrow & Gosling’s 2003 study, its findings will be discussed first. The pair of authors assessed participants’ personality with the BFI and several other scales and tests were completed for a more complete psychological profile. Participants’ personality scores were then compared with their STOMP scores to analyze any correlations between personality traits and preferences.
A preference for RC music was found to be positively correlated with openness, as was a preference for IR music. Surprising the authors, those with a preference for IR music did not show signs of neuroticism or disagreeableness. Those who preferred UC music typically had higher levels of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, while showing lower levels of openness. A preference for ER music was positively correlated with extraversion and agreeableness.
Their findings support the idea that music preferences are partially determined by personality.
One fascinating study explored the influence of personality on music-genre exclusivity (Bansal et al., 2020). Genre exclusivity refers to the extent to which someone listens to genres other than their primarily preferred genre. For example, someone who listens to only classical music would exhibit high levels of genre exclusivity, whereas someone who has broad tastes would have higher levels of genre inclusivity. The researchers examined participants’ digital music collections and measured the percentage of songs in each genre. They then labeled each person an “x-head” depending on their preferred genre (e.g., “metal-head”) and found how much each x-head subgroup consumed other genres. Some consumed mostly their primary genre, while others consumed a more balanced spread. According to the authors, “x-head subgroups ranked from genre exclusive to inclusive in the following order: pop, dance, rap, metal, rock, classical, country, folk, jazz, and indie” (Bansal et al., 2020). Compared with a previous study of genre preferences and Big Five traits, they found greater genre inclusivity positively correlated with openness and agreeableness.
Another study analyzed participants’ music listening over a three-month period, measuring song count and listening duration per genre (Dunn et al., 2012). Participants completed the NEO PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992) Big Five test and the STOMP to provide a connection between personality and music preferences. The authors found that classical music
listeners had significantly higher neuroticism and jazz listeners had significantly higher openness to experience.
One study measured the influence of lyrics of different genres in personality dimensions by comparing expository essays written by participants to lyrics from different genres (Neuman et al., 2016). Participants completed the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality (John & Srivastava, 1999) and wrote an expository essay, reflecting on their inner worlds. Songs were grouped into the four genre groups from Rentfrow et al. 2003, processed to analyze lyrical content in each group, and then participants’ essays were analyzed. Similarity scores were given to each participant, pairing them with a genre based on how similar the words from their essays were to the lyrics of that particular genre. Rebellious music was associated with openness, reflective music was correlated with neuroticism, conventional music was linked to agreeableness and conscientiousness, and energetic music was found to be related to extraversion. These results support the researchers’ hypothesis that personality can be predicted based on the similarity of an individual’s writing to lyrics of similar genres.
Studies have also shown that personality traits can explain how people use music in everyday life. Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham (2007) used the Five Factor Model and created the Uses of Music Inventory to examine the connection between personality and music use. They found that people with a high tendency for intellectual experiences and those with high openness to experience used music more for cognitive reasons. High neuroticism, low extraversion, and low conscientiousness tended to listen to music for mood regulation. Vella & Mills (2007) discovered that the use of music is a mediator between personality and music preference. Participants completed the Big Five Inventory, Uses of Music Inventory, STOMP, and other cognitive/emotional tests. Openness predicted cognitive use of music and
cognitive use predicted a preference for RC music. Openness was also related to emotional use, and emotional use predicted IR music preference. Extraversion predicted a preference for ER and UC music.
Additionally, of their participants, women were more likely to listen for emotion use while men had more cognitive use. People with higher depression and perceived stress listened in the background and for emotional reasons over cognitive reasons.
While all of the prior studies have used the Big Five inventory, one survey from 16personalities.com by Nathaniel used the 16 personalities test based on the MBTI also found common listening uses by type group. NT types make up the Analyst “role”, NF types are known as Diplomats, Sentinels are SJ types, and Explorers are SP types. Analysts were found to prefer rock, classical and jazz genres and to mostly listen on a computer or tablet with headphones. Diplomats preferred alternative, ambient, jazz, soul, world, and blues, and were the most likely to listen 2+ hours a day. Sentinels preferred country and religious music listening and mostly used speakers. Explorers enjoyed pop, electronica, and hip hop most, and listened on their smartphones most.
Personality, music preference, and use of music are all clearly connected. Notably, the openness trait appears to be linked to RC and IR music preferences and using music for cognitive reasons. Extraversion and agreeableness seem to be related to ER and UC music, and listening for background use, while neuroticism is correlated with RC music and emotional listening. Unpacking the similarities and differences between the BFI and MBTI types/roles and looking for connections in music preference and use is beyond the scope of this paper but would be important for bringing data from both tests together to create a more cohesive model of personality, music preference, and music use. A deeper understanding of these relationships could lead to a greater appreciation for human psychology and the power of music.
Miami House of Creative Arts Team
Written By: David Cote, Board-Certified Music Therapist
July 29, 2022
Copyright © 2022 Miami House of Creative Arts
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