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Personality and musical preference are connected largely the same way no matter where you live: study

In this Dec. 1, 2017 photo, Ed Sheeran performs at Jingle Ball at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. (John Salangsang) In this Dec. 1, 2017 photo, Ed Sheeran performs at Jingle Ball at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. (John Salangsang)

Is your love for a specific selection of beats connected to your personality, and if it is, would that connection be the same no matter where in the world you live?

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which looked at the musical preferences of more than 350,000 people across 50 countries and six continents, musical preference was associated with personality in largely the same way no matter the location.

“Ed Sheeran’s song Shivers is [just] as likely to appeal to extraverts living in the U.K. as those living in Argentina or India,” a press release for the study stated. “Those with neurotic traits in the U.S. are as likely to be into Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit as people with a similar personality living in Denmark or South Africa.”

Researchers say that their findings show music can be a powerful unifying factor, and could actually help to address divisions in society.

The study found that across the globe, extroverts were drawn to contemporary music, while agreeable people enjoyed mellow and unpretentious music, and people who scored high in openness for their personality enjoyed mellow, contemporary, intense and sophisticated music.

Contemporary music included upbeat music often with electronic aspects, while music deemed “sophisticated” in the study categories had more complex arrangements and improvisation in instrumentation, such as jazz.

The correlation between personality and which type of music people enjoyed stayed consistent even through numerous countries.

“We were surprised at just how much these patterns between music and personality replicated across the globe,” David Greenberg, an honorary research associate at the University of Cambridge and a postdoctoral scholar at Bar-Ilan University, said in the release.

“People may be divided by geography, language and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as introverts elsewhere, that suggests that music could be a very powerful bridge. Music helps people to understand one another and find common ground.”

To compile the data, researchers ran two studies. In the first, they asked more than 284,000 participants to complete a survey on how much they enjoyed 23 different genres of Western music. In the second study, more than 71,000 participants were played short clips from 16 genres of Western music online and then asked to record their preferences of the pieces.

The music genres were sorted into five categories: contemporary, sophisticated, mellow, unpretentious, and intense. Mellow included romantic songs, soft rock, R&B and adult contemporary. Unpretentious included relaxing, uncomplicated and unaggressive tunes, and intense included distorted and aggressive sounds such as classic rock, punk and heavy metal.

In order to match personality to preferences, in both studies participants were asked to self-report on their personality as it scored in the “Big Five” categories: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

These terms represent categories of personalities, and is part of a theory of personality first developed in 1949.

Although there is no full consensus on the exact set of characteristics associated with each personality type, in general, in the Big Five theory, “openness” is associated with being imaginative and spontaneous, “conscientiousness” is associated with being thoughtful and goal-oriented, extraversion is those who are energized by social interaction, agreeableness is associated with kindness and a desire to care for others, and neuroticism is associated with sadness and anxiety.

Researchers focused on asking participants about Western music because it had the largest global reach in terms of listeners, the study stated.

The study included maps which were colour-coded with the strength of the correlation between personality and their associated musical preferences.

One map showed that while extraversion and contemporary music were strongly correlated across all the countries in the study, it was most highly correlated in Brazil, while the correlation was weaker in China.

Researchers had predicted that extraversion would be correlated with contemporary, upbeat music. They also correctly predicted that those who scored high in the category of “conscientiousness”, which is associated with being structured and liking order in the Big Five theory, would be much less likely to enjoy intense music due to its often rebellious lyrics.

One finding that stuck out from the rest was the musical tastes of people who identified strongly with neuroticism.

“We thought that neuroticism would have likely gone one of two ways, either preferring sad music to express their loneliness or preferring upbeat music to shift their mood,” Greenberg said. “Actually, on average, they seem to prefer more intense musical styles, which perhaps reflects inner angst and frustration.”

“That was surprising but people use music in different ways – some might use it for catharsis, others to change their mood. So there may be subgroups who score high on neuroticism who listen to mellow music for one reason and another subgroup which is more frustrated and perhaps prefer intense music to let off steam. We’ll be looking into that in more detail.”

He added that musical preference doesn’t determine your set personality, and that preferences can shift over time. But the seeming universality of which people enjoy which music could open new avenues of communication, researchers believe.

“Musical preferences do shift and change, they are not set in stone. And we are not suggesting that someone is just extroverted or just open,” Greenberg said.

“We all have combinations of personality traits and combinations of musical preferences of varying strengths. Our findings are based on averages and we have to start somewhere to begin to see and understand connections.” Top Stories

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