For the past two years, we have been studying the relationship between personality, attitudes, and values and the music that people like. During this period of time, we have collected personality and music preference data from over 10,000 people all over the world.
Analyses of the data have revealed a number of robust relationships between personality and music preferences, and have allowed us to identify some major patterns in music preferences. For example, regardless of age or sex, there are certain personality characteristics that are strongly associated with preferences for certain styles of music. In addition, we have found that people who prefer certain music genres (for example, country) are more likely to prefer certain other styles of music (religious) over others (heavy-metal).
This isn't to say that everyone who likes one style of music has exactly the same personality and music preferences. Instead, it means that, on average, people who like one style of music, more often than not, display similar personality characteristics and tend to like similar types of music.
We want to emphasize that we are talking about generalizations here, and these generalizations don't apply to all people. To illustrate, consider the generalization that men are generally taller than women. This does not mean that every man is taller than every woman. Instead, it means that, on average, men are taller than women. This same logic applies to the feedback that is given on this site. Even though, on average, people who like certain styles of music tend to be happy, not everyone who likes that type of music is happy.
1. What is the feedback based on?
All the feedback you see here is based on statistical analyses of personality and music-preference data collected from over 10,000 people. None of the feedback is based on our intuitions or theories about music and personality. In short, the feedback is entirely driven by the data we have collected.
2. Doesn't the feedback just reflect stereotypes?
Although the feedback might seem like it is based on stereotypes, our data suggest that some of the stereotypes about people who like certain styles of music might have an element of accuracy to them. That is not to say that all stereotypes are accurate or even mostly accurate, but there does some to be a kernel of truth to at least some of the music stereotypes and this is why the feedback may occasionally seem stereotypical.
3. Why is the feedback sometimes very different from how I see myself?
The feedback is not meant to suggest that that everyone who likes this music is exactly the way described. Indeed, the feedback was based on AVERAGE scores for people high and low on each music-preference dimension. This means that the feedback will be less accurate for individuals whose scores on the music dimensions are further away from the average high or average low scores. If you feel the feedback did not match you very well, this could be one reason why.
4. How were the labels for the music dimension derived?
First we identified the four music-preference dimensions based on analyses of thousands of respondents. Next, a group of judges listened to a variety of songs that were representative of each dimension and rated them on a list of characteristics (e.g., happy, complex, energetic, aggressive, etc.). Our analyses of the judges' ratings were used to determine the most appropriate labels for the dimensions.
5. Where do the personality questions come from?
The questions come from our research and research by others on personality, music, lifestyles, values, and attitudes. You can visit the homepage of one of the researchers.
6. How did we decide on the music genres?
The music genres were derived from our research on music preferences. In the past we have tried using more specific categories (e.g., Delta Blues, Harmonica Blues, etc., instead of "Blues") but we found that many respondents had trouble making distinctions, especially in categories of music they didn't particularly like. Thus, we have found that these somewhat broad labels work best. Of course, we realize this doesn't capture all genres and may blur some distinctions. Also bear in mind that this is an ongoing research program and we are continually changing and updating the categories as new findings emerge.
7. Why does the feedback sometimes give contradictory information?
Sometimes the feedback will give respondents apparently contradictory feedback. This is an unfortunate consequence of making generalizations. Quite often, individuals cannot be captured by the general trends derived from analyses of large numbers of people. Of course, while our generalizations do get it wrong sometimes they tend to get it right more often than not.
8. Why were there questions about location?
As part of our research on music preferences we are interested in the various causes of different musical tastes. One of the causes that we are currently investigating is the environment in which people grew up and in which they live now. For example, it seems reasonable to suppose that people who grew up in urban environments might develop different tastes from those who grew up in rural environments. These questions are designed to help us test these questions.
We're also interested in regional differences in personality. Some of our analyses suggest that people living in different regions of the U.S. have different personalities. To develop an understanding of the nature of those differences, we've examined the links between a region's personality and various features of its environment. For example, we find that a state's personality is related to precipitation (places with higher precipitation have higher rates of Neuroticism), population density (dense areas are associated with higher Openness and lower Agreeableness), ethnic diversity (diversity is related to higher Openness), and a host of other findings ranging from voting behavior to health and mortality. One question that arises from this is whether the environment shapes personality, or whether people select environments that reinforce their personalities. It could be that people high in Openness move to places that are densely populated and culturally diverse. Alternatively, living in densely populated and culturally diverse place may cause people to become more open. The reason why we currently ask about birthplace, place of residence, and how long participants lived in each is so that we can examine this issue of the causal direction between personality and environment.
We ask people how much they like/liked living in a certain place because we're interested in whether people prefer living in regions where their personalities “match” the personality of the region. If, for example, a person is open and disagreeable, would he or she prefer living in a place where the average person is also open and disagreeable, or in a place where the average person is narrow minded and agreeable? This idea draws from research on person environment fit, which indicates that people seek and create environments that reflect and reinforce their dispositions and self-views. Fit between persons and their environments has been linked to a wide range of physical and mental health consequences.
9. Where can I read more about this research?
Dr. Samuel Gosling's homepage contains further info on this research, including a copy of a recently published paper on music and personality. (download PDF of paper)