Written by Music, Research

Musical Tastes and Personality

A friend of mine pointed me towards this story based on some research that suggests that your musical tastes are linked to your personality.
I think she took exception to the idea that “heavy metal fans are gentle.”
Obviously, making broad genearlisations like that is nonsense, but I wanted to learn a little more about this survey. It could prove very interesting with commercial aspects for radio stations surely?
A bit of Googling revealed this BBC story on the research, conducted by Prof. Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University. Prof. North is a highly published academic, who I believe has worked with Capital Radio in the past. And it would be terribly unfair to ridicule research that I’ve not seen the full findings for.
But then the BBC story states that the research is still ongoing (so I suppose that means no published findings, I certainly haven’t turned any up), and says that they’re still looking for more participants. Helpfully, the BBC provides a link to the research survey – peopleinmusic.com.
Well I had to have a look at this survey. I should note that it does randomise the order of the questions, and I didn’t actually complete the questionnaire, but I reloaded it a few times to see a large selection of the questions (it’s not as short as the BBC report claims), and I do have a few questions about some of the things it asked me.
It wanted to know the ages of my parents (or how old they were when they died if they were no longer alive) and the age of my best friend. I can’t quite work out what that could be used for in the nature of a music research survey. While I don’t doubt that my parents might have had an influence on my musical tastes, knowing my current age and the age that my parents died wouldn’t be especially helpful. E.g. My dad might have died aged 30 yet I might be 35 today.
The questionnaire asked me if I was bi-, hetero- or homosexual. How is that musically relevant? Will that define whether or not I like Erasure?
Another question asks me to what extent I agree or disagree with the following:
a. Music is very important in my life
b. Music can arouse feelings of thrills and excitement in me.
c. It’s really important that I am able to share thrilling, intense and stimulating experiences with my partner.
d. I often get bored with my partner.
Huh? What have the last two got to do with anything?
More questions ask me about whether or not I’m in a romatic relationship, who ended my last relationship and why it ended (If she cheated on me, does that make me more likely to enjoy country music?). How happy am I in my current relationship, and how long I’ve been in that relationship.
Now I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve never studied the subject, but it feels to me that this questionnaire is trying to look at more than just my personality traits in relation to the music I like. There are plenty of questions about music that I’ve not ntoed here, but I’ve got to wonder what the ultimate aim of this research is. I don’t think the press story that’s out there is the whole thing.
Self-selected samples – i.e. you’ve made the decision to go to this site and fill out an online survey – aren’t great. And without seeing details of the findings, I can’t really be certain whether Prof. North’s results really are “significant” as he claims in the BBC piece.