Does Your Taste In Music Reveal Who You Are?
For the study, "Message in a Ballad: The Role of Music Preferences in Interpersonal Perception", researchers monitored dating couples during their "first six weeks of conversation", and found they used music to "check each other out" almost twice as much as they used books, TV, or sports.
Not revealed in the Times article: how many of the couples spent a substantial amount of time engaged in this sort of exchange:
MONITORED DATING PERSON #1: So... this is weird, huh?
MONITORED DATING PERSON #2: Yeah, tell me about it.
MONITORED DATING PERSON #1: Totally. Sigh
MONITORED DATING PERSON #2: Alright... wanna talk about music again?
We do have some info from the Mars/Venus Dept. Men and women tended to mention music differently. According to the Times, males did so to show their membership in a certain "tribe" (like, perhaps, "the emo tribe"?) while women spoke (yakked endlessly?) about it "to reflect moods" but "in both cases it had the effect of communicating their character types." I'm envisioning "talking stick guy who's in touch with his feelings" and "moody chick".
Peter Jason Rentfrow, one of the head psychologists behind the study (and, the article makes it a point to mention, an American), says, "What surprised us is the truth behind many of the stereotypes. If you like country or choral music, you are likely to be more plainly spoken than if you are into music without strong lyrics such as electronica. But we were surprised to find that, despite their love of aggressive music, rap and heavy metal fans were typically more shy than many other music lovers. I am not sure they want us to know that, though."
So he was surprised to find some stereotypes are apparently true, yet surprised to find another stereotype is apparently not true? Seems a mite disingenuous. On the other hand, isn't there another stereotype of a shy, picked-on loner who likes heavy metal and eventually turns violent? Eek.
For another part of their study, volunteers made mix CDs of their 10 favorite songs. Based only on listening to the CDs, people filled out questionnaires about what the people who made the CDs are like. The mix CDs were deemed a much more accurate way of quickly judging someone than several other means, like looks, clothes, and taste in movies. Researchers acknowledge that the majority of volunteers found it hard to narrow their list of favorite songs down to 10. I think the songs left out might be as telling as the ones on the disc. For instance, some people might have been reluctant to share the songs that mean the most to them.
Naturally, there are commercial applications for these theories. The Sunday Times article mentions a couple of dating agencies that emphasize shared musical tastes.
Huw Stephens, a Radio 1 presenter, notes that taste in music is an ever-changing creature. Someone might want to listen to "troubled" music at the moment because of their mood. Stephens says, "There can be an instant bond over music but, for instance, me and my girlfriend have very different tastes but we meet in the middle, and that is what counts." Oh, those two are so over.
Artists/Alleged Personality Type Associations: (more at the Times, but it's not laden with alt-rock artists):
Dolly Parton: "Personality type: upbeat, honest and conventional. Strong fixed opinions. You may also enjoy Top 20 pop music and film soundtracks"
Dolly Parton - Jolene (from The Ultimate Dolly Parton)
Paul McCartney: "Personality type: intense with a rebellious streak, a sensation-seeker. You may also appreciate alternative rock and some heavy metal music"
Paul McCartney - With A Little Luck (from All the Best)
Also, across the pond, The Guardian recently swapped 8 artists' iPods and asked them to guess whose iPod they had been given. It resulted in a fun article. The folks who participated: Katie Melua, Andreas Scholl, Mylo, Devendra Banhart, Lady Sovereign, Estelle, Matt Davies of Funeral For a Friend, and Rich Archer of Hard-Fi.
This experiment was also an attempt to make guesses about someone's personality. Gender was thrown into the mix as well (which was also likely true for the mix CD experiment). The usual assumption with the iPod swap was that women were more likely to choose emotional songs. The artists' analysis is interesting. One person arrived at the identity of their iPod's owner through unexpected means...
Katie Melua - Piece By Piece (from Piece By Piece)
Mylo - Destroy Rock & Roll (from Destroy Rock & Roll)
Lady Sovereign - 9 To 5 (a single, from Vertically Challenged, etc.)
Devendra Banhart - Pensando Enti (from Cripple Crow)