What Does Your iPod Say About You?

Right now, I have hundreds of songs on my mp3 player. I listen to everything from heavy metal when I run, to classical when I need to relax, to jazz when I am cooking. I listen to Broadway show tunes, movie soundtracks, and classic rock, depending on my mood. I also have tracks of nursery rhymes and Sesame Street favorites for my kids. So what does this say about me?

According to research being released by Professor Adrian North of Heriot Watt University, my musical tastes say a lot about my personality. North has been compiling data on personality and musical preferences for more than 3 years, from over 36,000 people around the world. This is currently the largest study of its kind. While his research is still ongoing and his newest research has not been published, he is finding significant correlations between personality and music preferences. The survey asked respondents to rank several musical genres on a scale from 1 to 10, and then answer questions about their self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional relationships with their mother, father, and romantic partners.

IpodSeveral smaller studies in recent years have revealed that people do communicate information about their personalities and bond over musical preferences, but researchers do not understand exactly why or how we use music in everyday life. One study found a link between IQ and musical tastes that may reveal how we experience music. Intellectually open and engaged individuals viewed music in a rational, cognitive way, while more introverted, neurotic individuals in the study used music to change or enhance their emotions.

Another study revealed that music is the primary topic of conversation when strangers get acquainted. Researchers concluded that discussion of music is so prevalent because people can form quick and accurate impressions about another’s personality from a brief discussion of music. They also noted that music preferences revealed different information than is obtained from other brief encounters by strangers.

These same researchers found that music preferences can be divided into 4 categories: reflective and complex, intense and rebellious, upbeat and conventional, and energetic and rhythmic. Through hundreds of surveys, they related each category of music to personality traits, and found strong correlates to values, intelligence, and personality. Fans of “reflective and complex” music, which includes classical, jazz, folk and blues, tended to be inventive and creative, were tolerant of others, and were politically liberal. Enthusiasts of alternative, heavy metal, and rock music, in the “intense and rebellious” category, were curious risk-takers who tended to be intelligent and physically active. “Upbeat and conventional” music includes country, religious, and pop music, attracted listeners who were outgoing, cheerful, and politically conservative. People who listened to “energetic and rhythmic” music, including funk, hip-hop, and soul, were talkative and energetic and opposed to conservative ideals.

The current research being promoted by Professor North reveals more categories, and more personality traits. Fans of indie music are creative, but have low self-esteem and are not hard working. Listeners of rock music are also creative, but they do have high self-esteem and are hard workers. Blues fans also have high self-esteem and are creative, but are also outgoing and at ease with themselves. Classical music lovers have the same traits as blues fans, except they are not outgoing. Heavy metal fans are creative and at ease with themselves. Reggae listeners have high self-esteem, and are creative, outgoing, and generous, but are not hard working. Fans of country music tend to be hard working and generous. Fans of dance music are creative and outgoing. And, finally, rap devotees are outgoing with high self-esteem.

Everyone can attest that music is important in our everyday life, but why do we really choose the music we choose? Maybe it’s our personality, but it is likely a combination of factors. My music tastes cannot be narrowed down to one genre, and my personality cannot be reduced to a few adjectives about my self-esteem and work ethic. I associate songs with memories and emotional experiences; I am drawn to the music I grew up with; I choose some music based on my activities. So, what’s the bottom line from this music research? Rock on to whatever music you like.


Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Adrian Furnham (2007). Personality and music: Can traits explain how people use music in everyday life? British Journal of Psychology, 98 (2), 175-185 DOI: 10.1348/000712606X111177

Peter J. Rentfrow, Samuel D. Gosling (2003). The do re mi’s of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (6), 1236-1256 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.6.1236

Peter J. Rentfrow, Samuel D. Gosling (2006). Message in a Ballad. The Role of Music Preferences in Interpersonal Perception Psychological Science, 17 (3), 236-242 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01691.x

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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