These findings could explain why people with similar music tastes tend to get along wellMohammad Metri, Unsplash

Originating at least 35,000 years ago in the Palaeolithic period, music has been a prominent aspect of human life and culture ever since. Whether it be during a 6am workout, a walk through the park, a late-night study session, or something completely different, most, if not all, people enjoy listening to music. Walk around Cambridge and ask everyone you see wearing a college puffer what they’re listening to (oh wait, there’s already someone doing that…) and you’d see the diversity of genres and artists is way beyond the range of sliced bread in Mainsbury’s. Clearly, different people have different musical preferences, but are these in any way related to one’s personality?

Researchers from Cambridge set out to answer precisely this question – and found that among 350,000 participants from over 50 countries and six continents, links between musical preferences and personality are universal. For example, listeners of contemporary music tended to exhibit extraversion, while those listening to music labelled as unpretentious were associated with conscientiousness, irrespective of a participant’s geographical location.

“If an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as introverts elsewhere, that suggests music could be a very powerful bridge”

These correlations are perhaps unsurprising: extraversion is a trait characterised by sociability, excitement-seeking, and positive emotions, while contemporary music tends to contain upbeat and danceable features. Similarly, conscientious listeners tended to enjoy aggressive and intense musical styles less than their non-conscientious counterparts. Interestingly, the scientists found that people exhibiting neuroticism neither preferred sad music (to express their loneliness) nor upbeat music (to improve their mood), as predicted, but leaned towards more intense musical styles – perhaps indicative of their inner angst and frustration?

It was also postulated that climatic factors may influence personalities and musical preferences, as people in warmer climates, particularly in Central and South America, tended to prefer more rhythmic and danceable music associated with extraversion and social traits. In addition to cultural differences tracing back to initial colonisation, and thus reflective of a nation’s history, this could possibly be a result of longer daylight hours and warmer evening temperatures leading to a more prominent social dancing culture than in colder climates.

To collect the data, the team used both a self-reporting questionnaire on participants’ opinions on 23 music genres and the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), as well as playing short audio clips from 16 genres of Western music and recording the participants’ reactions. In terms of linking music preferences to personality traits, the MUSIC model was used, identifying 5 key music styles (you can try this yourself, here:!):

  • Mellow (romantic, slow, and quiet features, such as soft rock or R&B music)
  • Unpretentious (relaxing, unaggressive, and simple, such as country)
  • Sophisticated (complex, inspiring, and dynamic, as heard in classical or traditional jazz)
  • Intense (loud and aggressive, such as heavy rock/metal punk or power pop genres)
  • Contemporary (rhythmic, upbeat, and electronic, such as rap, electronica, or Latin music)

Importantly, correlations between musical preference and personality traits remained constant between participants around the globe, suggesting that people of different cultures may be more similar than we think.

“People in warmer climates tended to prefer more rhythmic and danceable music associated with extraversion and social traits”

Dr David Greenberg, the lead author of the study, an Honorary Research Associate at Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre, and a Postdoctoral Scholar at Bar-Ilan University, says: “People may be divided by geography, language, and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as introverts elsewhere, that suggests music could be a very powerful bridge.”

Besides the potential for music to connect people around the world, these findings could also support music streaming recommendations with relation to wellbeing. For example, by tailoring the music genres listeners are recommended based on their personalities and subsequent mood.


Mountain View

Music as a medicine

Of course, nothing is clear cut and people cannot be stratified based on their music taste, but future studies could seek to investigate the biological and cultural factors underpinning these links. No matter what the origins, however, this study provides yet another example that we are not all as different as society has led us to think.