Whether you’re someone who enjoys belting out loud the lyrics from Hallowed Be Thy Name by Iron Maiden or you prefer to chill to the soothing melody of Norah Jone’s Come Away With Me, it’s safe to say that most of us, in some way or another, enjoy music. It’s rare to find someone who completely abhors it. It’s like looking for someone who hates chocolate. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like that chocolatey rich goodness that melts in your mouth… mmmm. I digress, back to music. We listen to it for almost 20% of our waking moments. It’s no wonder that it has an effect us. And vice versa.
How Music Affects Us.
When you stick a pair of earphones into your ears, the music you’re listening to has influence on our brain function. Those tunes can stimulate the formation of certain brain chemicals. For example, the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is the brain’s “motivation molecule” and it creates in us a feeling of pleasure. This is why when you work out with music, or do any activity really, you find it more enjoyable. Music makes everything better! Not just that, the brain also releases increased levels of oxytocin when listening to music. This chemical has been known to help us trust and bond with others. Notice its effects in restaurants. When there is music playing, people tend to feel more comfortable and close to each other. This effect can also be observed in movies, come to think of it. Great movie makers strategically place music in certain scenes to help us subconsciously bond with the characters and in later parts of the movie, repeat the same music to evoke in us conscious emotions about the same character. The next time you’re shedding a tear in Toy Story or Nemo, pay closer attention to the music at the time. It fuels emotions in its own subtle way.
How We Choose Music.
Now that we’ve seen the influence of music on us, let’s take a look on how our personalities can significantly craft out our music preference.
There was a study done on this topic by David M. Greenberg (http://theconversation.com/what-your-musical-taste-says-about-your-personality-50492) from the University of Cambridge. 4,000 participants were grouped into three broad thinking styles; Empathisers (Type E), who have a strong interest in people’s thoughts and emotions, Systemisers (Type S), who take interest in patterns, systems and the rules that govern the world, and Type B, those who have a mixture of the two thinking styles.
Past research shows that 95% of us fall into one of these three categories and these thinking style types are able to consistently predict human behaviour such as what field or industry one has strong interest in. Now, Greenberg’s research shows that music preference correlates strongly to these thinking styles as well.
From the sample, Type E (empathisers) preferred mellow music, with low energy, sad emotions, and emotional depth. So, if you are one who are intuitive about your feelings and are great at reading others’ you tend to skew more towards R&B, soft rock, and ballads. Try listening to Jeff Buckley’s recording of “Hallelujah” below. If you enjoyed it, like I did, you most probably fall into the Empathisers category.
On the other hand, Systemisers favoured music that had higher intensity and was more complex in nature. For example, hard rock, punk, heavy metal genres, classical and even jazz. David Greenberg suggests that “It’s almost like a musical puzzle that they’re putting together in their heads.” So if you love logical arguments and have a knack for solving problems, you might really appreciate something like Alexander Scriabin’s “Etude opus 65 no 3”.
If you loved both music tracks and had little preference of one over the other, you might be a Type B; having a balance of both emotional intuitiveness and logical reasoning. This would suggest that your taste in music would cover a wider range than normal, enjoying music from Metallica’s heavy metal to the Carpenters’ mellow tunes.
Of course there are exceptions to the norm. And upbringing to factor into consideration. There are suggestions that the brain works like a music recommendation system. It stores music templates. So when you listen to jazz often enough, that familiarity will give you an extra edge in appreciating new jazz pieces compared to someone more foreign to the music genre.
There are very few conclusions that are definite, especially when it comes to the personality. Still, in some sense, we tend to gravitate towards music that reflects our character. If that is the case, your playlist on Spotify or Sound Cloud could actually be a blueprint for your personality. Isn’t it an interesting thought? Next time you go on a date with someone new, just ask what their music preference is! You might get some interesting insight into their lives.