University researchers find clues to personality traits in musical preferences

June 18, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas—The type of music you listen to may reveal more about your personality than you realize.

A new study from researchers at The University of Texas at Austin that examines how music preference is related to personality found that most musical choices fall into one of four broad categories: Reflective and Complex, Intense and Rebellious, Upbeat and Conventional, or Energetic and Rhythmic. The results of the study appear in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

Researchers Dr. Samuel Gosling and Peter Rentfrow found that musical preference could reliably be sorted into one of these four categories and that these preferences are related to personality, intelligence and values.

“Music pervades many aspects of our daily lives, ranging from the drive to work and relaxing at home to hanging out with friends at a bar,” Gosling said. “Almost everyone listens to music of one kind or another. Our research suggests that personality plays a significant role in determining what kind of music we prefer.”

“Most people consider music to be a very important part of their lives and believe that their preferences reveal information about who they are,” Rentfrow added. “Until recently, there was very little empirical evidence to support this idea.”

Data about music preferences were collected from undergraduate students at the university, as well as 500 listeners across the country by analyzing the preferences of people using online music file-sharing services. Gosling and Rentfrow have developed a new scale to collect the data called the Short Test of Music Preferences (STOMP).

The study suggests that people who favored music falling into the Reflective and Complex category, which includes classical, jazz, folk and blues, tend to be inventive, have active imaginations, value aesthetic experiences, are tolerant of others and are politically liberal.

Alternative, heavy metal and rock music are in the Intense and Rebellious group and individuals preferring this type of music are inclined to be curious, risk-takers, physically active and intelligent. Listeners of Upbeat and Conventional music, which includes country, religious and pop music, are generally outgoing and cheerful, enjoy helping others, see themselves as physically attractive and hold conservative views.

Energetic and Rhythmic music consists of funk, hip-hop, soul and electronica. Those preferring this type of music in general see themselves as physically attractive, are talkative and energetic, are forgiving and rebuff conservative ideals.

Gosling and Rentfrow point out that the selection of music can be shaped by self-views and can be used as a way to project or broadcast their self-image to others.

“Music preferences can be used to make self-directed identity claims,” Gosling said. “Individuals may select styles of music that reinforce their self-views. For example, someone might listen to esoteric music to reinforce a self-view of being sophisticated. At the same time, they may use music as a badge for others to see.”

For more information contact: Robin Gerrow, College of Liberal Arts, 512-232-2145.