Exploring Music's Complexities

The Psychology of Music Preferences

The Psychology of Musical Preferences


Do you believe that a peek into your music collection will provide clues as to your character? Do your musical preferences reveal inner thoughts and feelings?  Do you use music to manipulate your emotional states?  Not surprisingly, there are two distinctly different opinions on the subject. The first is that song preferences are completely random; the other is that our musical choices reflect facets of our personalities.

Short Test of Music Preferences (STOMP)

Psychologists Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling believe that knowing what type of music a person prefers will allow one to make accurate personality predictions. These researchers reported studying several thousand undergraduates at the University of Texas using the Short Test of Music Preferences (STOMP) and Internet file-sharing services (1).  Rentfrow and Gosling reported that music preferences grouped themselves into either the “reflective and complex, “intense and rebellious”, upbeat and conventional” or energetic and rhythmic” group.  Each of these groupings contained several kinds of music, and each was significantly correlated with a number of personal traits.   Their quiz is available to those curious to test their results at www.outofservice.com/music-personality-test/ (3).

Personality Clues

Rentfrow suggests that personality clues are conveyed in the music’s tempo, rhythm and lyrics. Their research further suggests that individuals who listen to jazz, classical and other “complex” music will probably have above-average IQS.  People who like country and pop tend to be conventional, honest and conservative.   They also found that individuals who gravitate to gangsta rap or heavy metal might be more timid and shy.  Heavy bass line music attracts extroverts.   Background music may help extroverts focus, but tends to torment introverts.   Steven Stack, a psychologist at Wayne State University in Michigan says dramatic personalities are drawn to opera, not influenced by it (1).

Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University collected data from over 36,000 participants word-wide to test this theory.  In this study, people were asked to rate 104 musical styles and share information about their personalities (2).   Their findings listed a dozen links ranging from blues to rock/heavy metal to high self-esteem and low esteem.

Japanese researchers looked at possible links between personality profiles and music genres, six dimensions and 24 facets of personality.  They found that individuals open to experience and aesthetic appreciation are drawn to reflective music like jazz, classical, opera.  Sociability was found to be associated with pop music (2).  Work by Chamorro-Premuzic, Fagan and Furnham support the Japanese findings that extroverts like social, happy music.

Personal Feelings

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic Ph.D. believes the research finding of others is handicapped by the use of established musical genres that have no psychological basis.  They conclude that research is supported by laypeople data relating to their playlists and the judgments people make based on another individuals DVD and CD collection, art, books, etc. (4 ). He suggests the use of an online Music-based Personality Profiler and Music Discovery tool site (http://test.mi-id.com. (4).  This quiz is designed to measure what one feels rather than making assumptions about relationships.

Mood Music

Other data collected suggest people choose to listen to music that provides moods and activities and to use this music to tell others about themselves.  Rentfrow also notes that adolescents use music selection as a badge of their identity (1).

What does your taste in music say about your personality? Find out with these quizzes. These tests will tell you how other people see you based on your listening habits. It ’s fun!


1.  E. Benson.  You are what you listen to. July/August 2003, Vol. 34, No. 7.  Print version: page 33.  American Psychological Association.  You are what you listen to

2.  What does Your Musical Preference Say about Your Personality? http://urbantimes.c02012/12.

3.  The Do-Re-Mi’s of Personality – What your music tastes say …www.outofservice.com/music-personality-test/

4. The Psychology of Musical Preferences What do your musical preferences say about your personality?  Post published by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic Ph.D. on Jan 14, 2011 in Mr. Personality https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mr-personality/201101/the-psychology-musical-preferences.

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