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Are Music Preferences and Thinking Styles Linked?

Are Music Preferences and Thinking Styles Linked?

According to research published in PLoS One by a team at the University of Cambridge, a person’s taste in music might offer insight into the way they think.

The study was working on the empathising-systemising theory, which is based on the idea that there are two thinking styles, empathising and systemising.

Many people hear the opening of a song and just know if they are going to love or hate it – they make a snap decision. Of course, there are those songs which are “growers”, but either way, it’s unclear what drives these music preferences, especially when they can differ so vastly.

The aim of the study was to investigate the role of empathy in musical preferences. More than 4,000 participants, recruited through a Facebook psychology questionnaire, were split into four sample groups and administered musical stimuli from across a variety of different music genres.

The questions were designed to assess whether the participants were “systemisers” or “empathisers”. For example, they were asked if they were interested in the construction or design of something. They were separately asked whether they thought they were good at judging how people were feeling.

After these results had been analysed, the study participants were subjected to 50 short pieces of music spanning 26 styles. They were then asked to rate each of these pieces between one and 10.

Empathisers are those who have the ability to identify, understand, and respond appropriately to the thoughts and feelings of other people. The study participants who scored highly on empathy were more likely to be drawn to soft rock, folk music, and R&B.

On the other end of the scale are systemisers, who seek to analyse patterns in the world. These people were more likely to enjoy punk music, heavy metal, and more complex music overall, like jazz.

Perhaps even more interestingly, the differences weren’t contained within each sample group. The research team found that even within given genre, there were varying preferences regarding intensity and music styles.

Cambridge University doctoral student David Greenburg explained that companies like Spotify and Apple Music spend a lot of money creating algorithms to help choose the music a user might want to listen to. These music industry companies could employ these latest findings and make such a task both easier and cheaper.

“By knowing an individual’s thinking style,” he explained, “such services might in future be able to fine tune their music recommendations.”

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