Musical Preferences Can Predict How Empathetic You Are

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Your musical tastes may truly be a reflection of who you are. Music preferences can predict a person’s cognitive style, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE. Empathetic people may be more likely to enjoy slower, more emotional music like soul and soft rock, while more analytical personalities are more likely to enjoy hard rock and punk, researchers at Cambridge and Stanford universities argue. 

As a function of the myPersonality Facebook application (created by co-author David Stillwell, who has mined the app for other psychological research as part of his work at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Center), more than 4,000 participants took a questionnaire that measured their levels of empathy, then listened to song samples and rated how much they liked the music. Greater empathy scores predicted an appreciation for mellow music (hello, soft rock and smooth jazz!) compared to more intense songs. 

In a follow up, 343 participants recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk completed the same questionnaire before rating their preferences for different sonic attributes in music, with similar results. Participants who displayed a more empathetic cognitive style preferred sadder, slower music with emotional depth. On the other side of the spectrum, participants with a greater tendency for systemizing (interested in analyzing and constructing systems, rather than understanding others' feelings) preferred more animated, complex music. 

Suddenly, asking someone who his or her favorite band is feels like a much more loaded question.