Do Your Favorite Songs Reveal Your Personality?
Via Slashdot, a PsyBlog post about a pair of studies published in Psychological Science under the title "Message in a ballad: the role of music preferences in interpersonal perception".
In the first study, 74 University of Texas undergraduate students (with an average age of roughly 18) were paired and asked to get to know each-other over six weeks. When asked what they talked about, the students possibly answered honestly, and most of them said music. 58% of the pairs talked about music in the first week. All the other categories combined were only 37%. That still leaves 5% of pairs who talked about nothing. Perhaps they got to know each-other through drinking, sex, and/or interpretive dance...
In the second study, researchers asked for a judgment of "targets'" personalities, based on a top 10 list of each target's (heh) favorite songs. The students' assessments were compared to those of a standardized personality test that seeks to measure the "big five personality traits": openness to experience, extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability.
Researchers concluded that the top 10 lists were a pretty good way to measure some personality traits. They did the best at measuring openness to experience, and then extroversion and emotional stability. Knowing someone's musical tastes might not help at predicting whether they're conscientious, though, going by the results of this study.
In December I posted a list of my 30 favorite earworms of 2006* -- not a list of my top 10 favorite songs of all time (is that what the students listed?) - heck, I didn't even call them songs! I'll go ahead and copy the top 10 here anyway:
1. Keane - "Is It Any Wonder?"
2. Placebo - "Drag"
3. Infadels - "Love Like Semtex"
4. Depeche Mode - "Martyr"
5. Peter, Bjorn And John (feat. Victoria Bergsman) - "Young Folks"
6. Hot Chip - "Over and Over"
7. Junkie XL (with vocals by Nathan Mader) - "Today"
8. The Pipettes - "Pull Shapes"
9. Teddybears (feat. Neneh Cherry) - "Yours to Keep"
10. Mogwai - "Friend of the Night"
* with the disclaimer that the list was made with a bias against the artists on top albums list, though a couple sneaked on anyway...
Not sure what conclusions a University of Texas student or anyone else might draw about my personality based on the list. In general, I don't think musical tastes are a reliable way to assess personalities. I would think most peoples' real-life (non-research-based) experiences would lead them to question the findings of the second study.
I wonder whether students were instructed to draw no conclusions based on songs/artists they didn't know. I also wonder whether they tended to do so regardless of whether they received such an instruction. If students saw the title "Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!", and were completely unfamiliar with the band Minus the Bear and the song, they might do a poor job if asked to describe the song. But if asked to describe a fan of the song, using those big five traits anyway, maybe they could...
Minus The Bear - Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!! (on Highly Refined Pirates)
Among the more interesting/sketchy findings is that those who like country music are emotionally stable and that those who like vocals are extroverted. Seems a bit random, though maybe reading the full article I'd be convinced. I'm not going to cough up $29 for online access to the article though, not even to satisfy my curiosity about the instructions the students were given.
Last year, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) introduced The Federal Research Public Access Act, which would require federal agencies funding more than $100 million a year in external research to put resulting peer-reviewed journal articles on the Internet. About half of university research is government-funded -- no idea who funded the music preferences studies, but that is a lot of publicly-funded research. And a lot of articles taxpayers fund, but can't read about without paying loads of money.
FreeCulture.org and The Alliance For Taxpayer Access have declared February 15th a National Day of Action for students to rally for access to federally-funded research. Events are planned at campuses nationwide, and those who support the reintroduction and passage of The Federal Research Public Access Act can sign a statement of support (whether they're a student or not).