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Psychology of music preference

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Title: Psychology of music preference  
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Subject: Music psychology, Musical semantics, Lipps–Meyer law, Max Friedrich Meyer, Generative theory of tonal music
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Psychology of music preference

The psychology of music preference refers to the psychological factors behind peoples' different music preferences. Music is heard by people daily in many parts of the world, and affects people in various ways from emotion regulation to cognitive development, along with providing a means for self-expression.[1] Music training has been shown to help improve intellectual development and ability, though no connection has been found as to how it affects emotion regulation.[2] Numerous studies have been conducted to show that individual personality can have an effect on music preference, mostly using the Big Five personality traits. These studies are not limited to Western or American culture, as they have been conducted with significant results in countries all over the world, including Japan,[3] Germany,[4] and Spain.[5]

Personality and music preference

Psychologists generally accept the notion that nonclinical individual differences could be summarized according to five different dimensions.[6] Many research studies have used these Big Five personality traits as their measures for personality, which breaks personality down into five categories: openness to experience, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness.

Various questionnaires have been created to both measure the big five personality traits and musical preferences. The majority of studies attempting to find the correlation between personality and musical preferences administered questionnaires to measure both traits.[7][8][9][6][10][11][12] Others used questionnaires to determine personality traits, and then asked participants to rate musical excerpts on scales such as liking, perceived complexity, emotions felt, and more.[13][14][15]

In general, the plasticity traits (openness to experience and extraversion) affect music preference more than the stability traits (agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness),[16] but each trait is still worth discussing. The personality traits have also been shown to correlate significantly with the emotional effect music has on people. Individual personality differences can help predict the emotional intensity and valence derived from music.[17]

Openness to experience

Of all the traits, openness to experience has been shown to have the a great effect upon genre preference.[7][18] In general, those rated high in openness to experience prefer more complex and novel music like classical, jazz, and eclecticism,[19] and intense and rebellious music.[20][11][7][21] Reflective and complex genres include classical, blues, jazz, and folk music, while intense and rebellious includes rock, alternative, and heavy metal music.[11] One of the facets of openness to experience is aesthetic appreciation, which is why researchers generally explain the high positive correlation between openness and liking complex music.[22] People rating higher in openness also tend to rate higher in self-assessed intelligence. This suggests that high openness leads to higher self-perceived intelligence, which could also explain why this group tends to like more complex, classical music and jazz.[23]

One study looking at how personality traits affect music-induced emotion found that of all the traits, openness to experience was the best predictor of higher emotionally intense reactions to sad and slow music. The most common feelings described from sad music were nostalgia, peacefulness, and wonder, and openness to experience correlated positively with all these feelings.[24] Sad music has also been theorized allow for greater experience of aesthetic experiences and beauty.[15] Furthermore, open individuals show a preference for diverse musical styles, but do not prefer popular forms of contemporary music, indicating that there are limits to this openness.[25]However, this is only true up to a certain point, as another study looked at music's ability to produce "chills" in the listeners. Although this study found that openness was the best predictor of genre preference, there is no way to use openness to experience to predict who gets chills from music. Instead, the only measure for that was frequency of listening to music and the self-rated value of the importance of music in one's life.[26]

Another study examined how openness to experience and frequency of listening are related and how they affect music preference. While listening to classical music excerpts, those rated high in openness tended to decrease in liking music faster during repeated listenings, as opposed to those scoring low in openness, who tended to like music more with repeated plays. This suggests novelty in music is an important quality for people high in openness to experience.[27]

One study had people take a personality test before and after listening to classical music with and without written lyrics in front of them. Both the music with and without lyrics showed some effect at actually changing people's self-rated personality traits, most significantly in terms of openness to experience, which showed some significant increase.[28] Instead of personality affecting music preference, here classical music altered the assessment of their own personalities and make people assess themselves as more open.

Openness to experience is also positively correlated with intellectual or cognitive use of music, which means that this individual enjoys analyzing complex musical compositions.[9][6][12][29] Furthermore, individuals more open prefer a greater number of melodic themes in a work of music.[30][10]


Extraversion is another good predictor of music genre preference and music use. Energetic extroverts have been linked to preferences in happy, upbeat and conventional music, as well as energetic and rhythmic music, such as rap, hip hop, soul, electronic, and dance music.[9][11] Additionally, extraverts tend to listen to music more and have background music present in their lives more often.[22] One study compared introverts and extroverts to see who would be more easily distracted by background music with and without lyrics. It was assumed that since extroverts listen to background music more they would be able to tune it out better, but that was proved untrue. No matter how much music people listen to they are still equally affected and distracted by music with lyrics.[31] Cheerful music with fast tempos, many melodic themes, and vocals are also preferred by extroverts.[12][10][21] They are more likely than others to listen to music in the background while doing other activities, such as running, being with friends, or studying.[29][6][9] This group also tends to use music to counter the monotony of everyday tasks, such as ironing.[6] In a Turkish study, researchers found that extroverts preferred rock, pop, and rap because these genres facilitated dance and movement.

Another study examined music teachers and music therapists, assuming that people who like and study music would be more extroverted. The results showed that music teachers were definitely higher in extraversion than the general public. Music therapists were also higher on extraversion than introversion, though they scored significantly lower than the teachers.[32] Differences can probably be attributed to teaching being a profession more dependent on extraversion.


Agreeable individuals preferred upbeat and conventional music.[11] Additionally, listeners with high agreeableness displayed an intense emotional response to music which they had never before listened to.[13] Agreeableness is also a good predictor of the emotional intensity experienced from all types of music, both positive and negative. Those scoring high in agreeableness tend to have more intense emotional reactions to all types of music.[33]


The more neurotic a person is, the less they like intense and rebellious music (such as rock and heavy metal), but prefer upbeat and conventional music, like country, sound tracks, and pop music.[11] Additionally, neuroticism is positively correlated with emotional use of music.[9][8] Those who scored high in neuroticism were more likely to report use of music for emotional regulation and experience higher intensity of emotional affect, especially negative emotion.[9][6]


Conscientiousness is negatively correlated with intense and rebellious music, such as rock and heavy metal music.[11] While previous studies have found a relationship between conscientiousness and emotional regulation, these results do not apply cross culturally- specifically, researchers did not find this relationship in Malaysia.[6]

Individual and situational influences on musical preferences

Situations have been shown to influence individual’s preferences for certain types of music. Participants in a study from 1996 provided information about what music they would prefer to listen to in given situations, and indicated that the situation greatly determined their musical preferences. For example, melancholic situations called for sad and moody music, while an arousal situation would call for loud, strong rhythm, invigorating music.[34]


Women are more likely than men to respond to music in a more emotional way.[29] Furthermore, females prefer popular music more than males.[25] In a study of personality and gender in preference for exaggerated bass in music, researchers found that males demonstrated more of a preference for bass music than females. This preference for bass music is also correlated with antisocial and borderline personalities.[35]


Age is a strong factor in determining music preference. Nostalgia is the most important feeling that affects music preference here. Music producing nostalgia effects has been shown to have large predictive effects on people of all ages.[36]In a study of adolescent preferences of music in England, researchers found that girls regarded music as a worthwhile activity more than boys, but both boys and girls agreed that it does not need to be taught in schools. This finding is evidence that preferences and opinions toward music can change with age.[37] In a Canadian study concerning how adolescent music preferences relate to personality, researchers found that adolescents who preferred heavy music demonstrated low self-esteem, higher levels of discomfort within the family, and tended to feel rejected by others. Adolescents who preferred light music were preoccupied with doing the proper thing, and had difficulty balancing independence with dependence. Adolescents who had eclectic music preferences had less difficulty negotiating adolescence, and were flexible using music according to mood and particular needs at the time.[38]

Season of the year

Season of the year can also affect preferences. After reflecting upon fall or winter seasons, participants preferred reflective and complex music, whereas after reflecting upon summer or spring, participants preferred energetic and rhythmic music. However, “pop” music seems to have a universal appeal, despite the season.[39]


Familiarity and complexity both have interesting effects on musical preferences. As seen in other types of artistic media, an inverted U relationship is apparent when relating subjective complexity on liking music excerpts. Individuals like complexity to a certain degree, then begin to dislike the music when complexity gets too high. Furthermore, there is a clear positive monotonic relationship between familiarity and liking of music.[40]

Self views

Music preferences can also be influenced by how the individual wants to be perceived, especially in males.[9] Music preferences could be used to make self-directed identity claims. Individuals might select styles of music that reinforce their self-views. For examples, individuals with a conservative self-view preferred conventional styles of music, while individuals with an athletic self view preferred vigorous music.[12]


Active mood is another factor that affects music preference. Generally whether people are in a good or bad mood when they hear music affects how they feel about the type of music and also their emotional response.[17] On that line of thinking, aggression has been shown to improve creativity and emotional intensity derived from music. People with aggressive disorders find music to be a powerful emotional outlet.[41] Additionally, the value people put on music and frequency of listening affects their reactions to it. If people listen to a certain type of music and add emotional experience to songs or a genre in general, this increases the likelihood of enjoying the music and being emotionally affected by it.[18] This helps explain why many people might have strong reactions to music their parents listened to frequently while they were kids.

See also


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  2. ^ Schellenberg, Glen E.; Mankarious, Monika (October 2012). "Music training and emotion comprehension in childhood". Emotion 12 (5): 887–891.  
  3. ^ Brown, R.A. (1 November 2012). "Music preferences and personality among Japanese university students". International Journal of Psychology 47 (4): 259–268.  
  4. ^ Langmeyer, Alexandra; Guglhör-Rudan, Angelika & Tarnai, Christian (October 2012). "What do music preferences reveal about personality: a cross-cultural replication using self-ratings and ratings of music samples". Journal of Individual Differences 33 (2): 119–130.  
  5. ^ Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas; Gomà-i-Freixanet, Montserrat, Furnham, Adrian & Muro, Anna (August 2009). "Personality, self-estimated intelligence, and uses of music: A Spanish replication and extension using structural equation modeling". Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 3 (3): 149–155.  
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  8. ^ a b Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas; Gomà-i-Freixanet, Montserrat; Furnham, Adrian; Muro, Anna (1 January 2009). "Personality, self-estimated intelligence, and uses of music: A Spanish replication and extension using structural equation modeling.". Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 3 (3): 149–155.  
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  22. ^ a b Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas; Fagan, Patrick & Furnham, Adrian (November 2010). "Personality and uses of music as predictors of preferences for music consensually classified as happy, sad, complex, and social". Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 4 (4): 205–213.  
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