Your music tastes may be based on empathy more than personality

Definitive proof on why your brainwaves prefer Jeff Buckley or Metallica.

July 24, 2015

Those lovable eggheads are at it again, shattering our preconceptions of what we know about the brain and music. Common opinion has long been that your taste in music is generally a reflection of your personality. However, researchers at Cambridge University say that music choices could reflect how your brain works on a deeper level.

The researchers tested 4,000 participants to determine whether they were ’empathisers’ or ‘systemisers’ (prone to analyzing patterns). They then had the participants rate 50 short pieces of music in different styles. They found that empathisers preferred R&B, soft-rock or “unpretentious” music like country and folk (with songs like Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” and Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” listed as favourites). Meanwhile, systemisers favoured “intense” music like punk and metal (e.g. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica) or complex music such as avant-garde jazz.

I know what you’re saying: “Duh.” As did I – until I realized I was equating being highly empathetic with having a certain personality type as opposed to it being reflective of that cognitive style. Do you have a buddy that’s really intense and super outgoing but gets made fun of because he inexplicably loves Josh Groban above all else? Chances are if you think about it, he’s a very empathic guy.

The researchers believe that studies such as this “may help us understand those at the extremes, such as people with autism, who are strong systemisers,” which is an amazing thought. Slightly less noble: “A lot of money is put into algorithms to choose what music you may want to listen to, for example on Spotify and Apple Music. By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine-tune their music recommendations to an individual.”

[h/t FACTMag]

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