Do Musical Preferences Indicate Cognitive Style?

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In an interesting new study done by the University of Cambridge, it is thought that people’s thinking style can be indicated by their taste in music. Researchers discovered a person’s cognitive style or approach could influence the sort of music they like.

The results of the new study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

That’s Music to Our Ears

There is very little known about what determines a person’s taste in music. There has long been debates by experts on whether music preferences is reflected in someone’s age and personality. An example would be people who are forward thinking and not afraid of trying something new have a tendency to prefer jazz, folk and classical music. Another example would be people who are outgoing and amiable tend to enjoy pop, soundtracks, soul, funk and religious music.
In the most recent study, a team of researchers, led by David Greenberg, a Ph.D. student, investigated how cognitive style may be an influence over one’s musical choices.

The data was measured by reviewing whether an individual scores highly on empathy, or on systemizing or whether people have a balance of both.
Greenberg stated, “Although people’s music choices fluctuates over time, we’ve discovered a person’s empathy levels and thinking style predicts what kind of music they like. 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 research team did multiple studies with more than 4,000 participants who were primarily recruited through the myPersonality Facebook application. The app asked Facebook users to fill out a selection of psychology-based questions. The results of the answers they provided were placed on their profile for other people to view.

Later on, the same people were asked to listen to and rate 50 musical pieces. The team then use library examples of musical stimuli from 26 genres and subgenres. This was done to minimize the chances that study participants may have any personal or cultural association with any given piece of music.
It was discovered that people who scored higher on empathy had a tendency to prefer more mellow music such as R&B, adult contemporary and soft rock. These same individuals also tended to enjoy unpretentious music and contemporary tunes. People who scored high on empathy didn’t like intense music like heavy metal or punk.

In contrast, those who scored high on systemizing tended to favor intense music, but didn’t like mellow or unpretentious music.

Study Results

These results proved that even within specific musical genres; people with high empathy tended to gravitate towards mellow music and unpretentious jazz, while systemizers were more likely to prefer intense, sophisticated jazz.

People who scored high on systemizing liked music that had high energy or positive emotions. The current research results could help scientists understand how music is a mirror to the self. More study is needed to understand how people at the extreme, such as an individual with autism, could be a strong systemizer.

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