Despite its sometimes dubious scientific basis, the personality testing industry makes an estimated $2 billion a year by telling companies their new hire is an INFJ or revealing their HEXACO type. A new study suggests your company could save some money and simply ask applicants about their musical tastes.
Your musical tastes really reveal your personality.
We’ve all heard the popular stereotypes about fans of certain types of music. But are metalheads really aggressive, classical music fans smart and emo kids prone to gloom? Can our musical tastes suggest more than our current mood or clothing preferences and say something concrete about our personalities?
To find out, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Israel’s Bar-Ilan University used an online quiz to extract information about the musical preferences and personalities of more than 285,000 study subjects from 53 countries (you can try the quiz yourself here). They also created a website where 71,000 visitors from 34 countries rated music videos and answered a personality quiz.
The team used well-known, scientifically validated frameworks to categorize both music and personality. The aptly named MUSIC framework categorizes music into five dimensions: soft, unassuming, sophisticated, intense, and contemporary. The familiar Big 5 personality framework categorizes people based on openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness.
Did the research team find correlations between the type of music someone liked and their personality type? Yes, researchers reported recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Extroverts around the world tend to love upbeat, danceable contemporary music. So if you want to check if this job candidate (or potential romantic match) is really outgoing, ask for his opinion on Ed Sheeran.
Are you worried about hiring someone neurotic? Start a conversation about ’90s grunge. The study found that fans of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and other intense music are more neurotic on average. However, those who are very conscientious tend to avoid more intense music, so if you’re looking for every “i” to be dotted, maybe avoid the guy wearing a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt.
Looking for a nice guy? Then put on some Marvin Gaye and see how they react. Researchers have found a strong correlation between liking soft music and being very pleasant.
Overall, the researchers were surprised at how much musical taste transcended boundaries and revealed personality. “We were surprised to see how these patterns between music and personality replicated across the world. People can be divided by geography, language and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music than introverts elsewhere, this suggests music could be a very powerful bridge,” commented study leader David Greenberg.
OK, maybe don’t just hire based on your musical tastes…
I joke about selecting contestants based on their musical tastes, of course. There are much better ways to determine a candidate’s personality and skills, and researchers ensure that these correlations are averages. You shouldn’t rank someone based solely on their favorite artist.
“We all have personality trait combinations and musical preference combinations of varying strengths. Our results are based on averages and we have to start somewhere to begin to see and understand the connections,” Greenberg notes.
But this research — aside from just being a ton of fun — suggests that our instincts are basically good when it comes to musical taste and personality. What you like to listen to can really reveal a lot about you.
So while you should never cross off a contestant because of their favorite Spotify playlist (or cancel a date for that matter – trust me, a soft music guy married to a metalhead), you can be just about sure that when people tell you about their musical tastes, they are also telling you something about their personality.