Study Shows How Music Taste Communicates Personality

April 7th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

It's one of the most cliche questions in the book of conversational icebreakers — "So, what kind of music are you into?" — but it's probably in there for a good reason.

According to recent research out of the University of Cambridge, musical preference actually communicates a lot about personality. David Greenberg, a Cambridge psychologist, identified a few basic subgroups of people based on the results of surveys about personality and music taste: "Empathizers" and "systemizers."

"Empathizers" are those who are more attuned to thoughts and feelings, while "sympathizers" tend to engage more with structural underpinnings and critical thinking. Musically, those categories translate into people who like music that's either "mellow" or "intense."

"People who are high on empathy may be preferring a certain type of music compared to people who are more systematic," Greenberg told CNN.


A third category — those who like both sorts of music — were branded as "balanced."

The research, which is ongoing (take the quiz for yourself here), isn't necessarily surprising: soothing, gentle music seems a natural fit to people who feel the feels — just as free jazz or heavy metal might appeal to someone whose interest is piqued by intricate structural qualities.

The initial findings seem to only solidify those inklings. Empathetic people tended to be drawn to emotional songs on the quiz by Joni Mitchell or Jeff Buckley. On the other end, people who approach music as something like a "puzzle" said they liked songs by Rage Against The Machine and Metallica. "Balanced" people seem to get the best of both worlds, and they enjoyed songs across the spectrum.

"We are seeking music that reflects who we are, so that includes personality, that includes the way we think, and it may even be the way our brain is wired," Greenberg said.