What does your music taste say about you?

How many times have we asked the question: ‘’what’s your music taste like?’’ when we’re trying to get to know someone? Sometimes it’s automatic; it masks the outright question of ‘’what are you like as a person?’’ We seem to think music forms a part of our identity, that what we listen to projects something about us. But are there any actual links between personality and our music taste? Does a certain music genre appeal to some personality traits more than others? The next time someone answers with their favourite style, are they genuinely revealing something about themselves?

The link between music taste and personality has captured the attention of many within psychology, and numerous studies have concluded that certain traits definitely influence music preferences. The Big Five Factor Model, which assesses levels of openness (open to new experiences, creative, insightful, original); conscientiousness (efficient, organised, resourceful, intelligent;) extraversion (sociable, outgoing, confident, warm, lively); agreeableness (friendly, compassionate, trustworthy, modest, empathetic) and neuroticism (measures emotional vulnerability, self-consciousness, impulsivity); has been used within many studies to find links between certain traits and preference for a genre. People are usually asked to take the personality test, and then list their liking for different styles of music – and many links have been found.

Different genres and personality traits

Genres which are often upbeat, have a dense texture (lots of instruments playing) and generally project a positive mood, tend to attract those people who are more extraverted and thrive in social situations. This is probably due to extraverts generally having a lower level of arousal (the level of stimulation), so they seek more stimulating and intense activities, including listening to music which has the potential to boost their energy. These genres can include mainstream pop, rap, hip-hop and heavy metal. Those who like jazz, blues, and soul, tend to be creative, intelligent, and show high levels of openness. This may be due to jazz being improvisatory in nature, and therefore the creative and spontaneous side is appealing.

Maybe quite obviously then, genres which tend to be slower, have a thin texture (less instruments playing) are more likely to attract those who are more introverted and empathetic. Introverts generally have a high level of arousal, so they are at risk of overstimulation if they engage with activities that are too intense, energy-wise. Introverts tend to move away from the world, preferring to reside in a personal, internal world of subjective experience. Music which is emotionally expressive, such as soft indie and folk (with a focus on sad lyrics and minimal instrumentation) and classical music tend to attract those who are more introverted.

Different uses of music and personality traits

Many studies have also concluded that the reasons why people use music vary depending on personality traits. Generally speaking, we take pleasure in music – we use it to boost our mood. If we need cheering up, putting on a feel-good song is likely to help. Music can be used in social settings, such as at a party or in a club, to lift spirits and energy levels. Extraverts tend to engage with this kind of music; they seek more stimulation.

Interestingly, a study found that more intellectually engaged individuals, with higher IQ scores, tend to use music in a more rational and cognitive way (Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Adrian Furnham), including using music for studying purposes. They also found that those who were more neurotic and introverted were more likely to use music for emotion regulation, and most of the time this was sad music. An interesting paradox arises – one which is rapidly gaining attention within psychology – why do we choose to listen to sad music, if it makes us sad? Surely, if we want to manage our emotions, we will want to cheer ourselves up, where’s the value in subjecting ourselves to sadness?

A study found that listening to sad music can be beneficial for those who are empathetic (Vuoskoski, J.K., Thompson, W.F., Mcllwain, D., & Eerola, T, 2011). When empathetic people listen to sad music, they can imagine the emotions expressed in the music are their own and it can form part of a healing process – it’s cathartic. As well as this, the aesthetic appeal of expressive art means that music can be used as a distraction from the realities of everyday life.

Another interesting find is that people who tend to disassociate are able to take pleasure in sad music – it makes them happy. These people are able to imagine the musical expression as coming from an anonymous agent and can detach themselves from the primary emotion of sadness. As Stephen Davies in his chapter in the book Music and Meaning says, ‘’distance might transform an unpleasant experience into a pleasurable one’’. A fire from afar might seem beautiful rather than terrifying. Sad music can be pleasurable if you’re able to realise they’re not emotions coming from a specific person or event.  


Even though there are definitely some genres which appeal to some personality traits more than others, as well as your personality potentially affecting how you use music in everyday life, these are generalisations. Of course, your music taste is unique, and you may like a variety of styles – this isn’t to say that extraverts don’t like sad music or that introverts don’t like upbeat mainstream pop. This article is more to give a brief insight into the rich ways that music integrates within human life, and that if you really want to, you can learn a lot about yourself just by looking at your playlist.


‘’Why Listen to Sad Music If It Makes One Feel Sad?’’ Chapter by Stephen Davies, in Music and Meaning, edited by Jenefer Robinson.

Vuoskoski, J. K., Thompson, W. F., McIlwain, D., & Eerola, T. (2011). Who enjoys listening to sad music and why? Music Perception, 29(3), 311-317.

Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas, and Adrian Furnham. “Personality and Music: Can Traits Explain How People Use Music in Everyday Life?” The British journal of psychology 98, no. 2 (2007): 175–185.

Rentfrow, Peter J, and Samuel D Gosling. “The Do Re Mi’s of Everyday Life: The Structure and Personality Correlates of Music Preferences.” Journal of personality and social psychology 84, no. 6 (2003): 1236–1256.


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