Your musical tastes may not just be a part of your interests, but an insightful channel into how you think. A new University of Cambridge study claims that different personality types tend to have predictable music tastes, based largely around how much empathy each personality type feels.
In the study, 4000 participants were given a 60 question psychology test and told to listen and rate 50 musical pieces. Researchers then linked two cognitive styles with the music rankings. They defined the first, empathy, as “our ability to recognize and react to the thoughts and feelings of others.” The second, “systemizing,” was described as “our interest in understanding the rules of underpinning systems such as the weather, music, or car engines.”
People who scored higher for empathy in the study tended to prefer “mellow, unpretentious, and contemporary music” while people who scored higher for systemizing preferred “intense music.”
“Although people’s music choices fluctuate over time, we’ve discovered a person’s empathy levels and thinking style predict what kind of music they like,” wrote Ph.D student David Greenberg (via CBC Music.) “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 then dove further into the data in order to find out why empathetic people like, say, Billie Holliday, and systematic people are fond of Metallica, for example. They found that those who scored higher for empathy liked music with low arousal, negative emotional valence (focused around fear, sadness, or anger), and emotional nuances. Those who scored higher on the systematic side liked music that had high arousal, positive valence (animated tendencies), and cerebral depth.
“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,” wrote Greenberg. “By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine tune their music recommendations to an individual.”
While the findings serve as an interesting look into the connection between human emotional states and their connection to music, they also have potentially broader, more serious ramifications: your music streamer of choice could one day use the data to determine how you feel.
Of course, streamers could also be collecting data that’s much more basic. When you’re listening to that breakup playlist on repeat, Spotify may be able to ascertain that you’re going through some romantic troubles.