The link between the music you listen to and your personality isn’t exactly clear

The study did uncover some modest links between certain entertainment preferences and problematic tendencies such as negative emotionality. Nevertheless, researchers said the links aren’t strong enough to diagnose people based simply on the music and movies they like. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Back in 1950, British psychologist Raymond Cattell, suggested that people’s entertainment preferences may be linked to personality difficulties. Later, in the early 2000s, Peter Rentfrow and Samuel Gosling published a few influential studies linking contemporary models of normal personality traits to music interests.

Following their steps, Pavel S. Blagov, an associate professor of psychology at Whitman College and the corresponding author, wanted to use that knowledge to predict links between entertainment preferences and recent models of maladaptive personality or unhealthy traits.

“These are the kinds of traits that clinical psychologists and psychiatrists might measure to describe long-standing difficulties in people’s usual ways of thinking, feeling, acting, and relating to others,” Blagov said.

Baglov and the researching team surveyed 379 Americans (ages 18 to 65 years) regarding their musical preferences, movie interests, personality traits, and psychopathic tendencies. They were able to uncover several relationships even after accounting for sex and aged differences.

“In general, some maladaptive traits appear to be linked to the kinds of music and movies people enjoy, but it is important to remember that the links are relatively weak. For example, people who tend to be unusually introverted or withdrawn do not seem to enjoy the kinds of stimulating, upbeat music played at social gatherings,” Baglov said.

The study showed that people who are prone to strangeness, oddity, or eccentricity in their thinking report enjoying a wide variety of music and movies, as do people who describe themselves as unusually fearless and dominant. These findings parallel results from the literature on normal personality traits.

No support was found for the notion that people who enjoy intense/rebellious music (heavy metal, punk, alternative rock, hip-hop, rap, and rave) show maladaptive personality tendencies, despite it had been suggested in previous literature. This can be liked to those genres becoming more accepted, researchers said.

“These findings do not mean that finding out what music and movies a person likes will readily allow us to guess how withdrawn, eccentric, fearless/dominant, or hostile the person is. They may exist at the population level, but they should not be used to ‘analyze’ individuals,” Blagov noted.

Researchers noted that despite their findings it’s still unclear how well the results apply to other countries and cultures — or even subcultures within the United States. The results are also correlational, preventing the researchers from making determinations about cause-and-effect.

“There isn’t enough research yet to explain the mechanisms, or the reasons why some normal and maladaptive traits are linked to entertainment preferences,” Blagov said.

“For example, do withdraw and unusually introverted people veer away from upbeat music because they also shun social gatherings, or because the music is overstimulating to them in an unpleasant kind of way?”

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