Music has impacted individuals and societies for decades and has evolved overtime to suit universal and cultural preferences. With such a wide variety of music available in our present day, individuals are forced to make judgments and ultimately decide which type of music they would like to listen to. These choices are typically based on what genre/style of music one personally enjoys listening to. But what individual differences exist between preferences for certain genres of music such as jazz and classical over heavy metal and hip hop?
Past research has demonstrated that an individual’s personality type can influence what music they enjoy, for example, someone who is outgoing may prefer an up tempo composition. This research reveals to us that individuals with similar personality characteristics will enjoy similar types of music and genres. This leads us to question of what determines our taste in music and how does an individual think and perceive the music they hear?
A recent study performed by Greenberg et al. (2015), sought to answer this question by looking at how an individual’s ‘cognitive style’ influences their preferences for different genres of music. A cognitive style is a term used in cognitive psychology to describe ones thinking style or how they perceive and remember information. To measure this, the authors grouped the participants based on whether their cognitive style was empathetic or systemizing and then studied the type of music they preferred. An empathetic cognitive style refers to an individual's emotional reaction to music and a systemizing cognitive style refers to how an individual analyzes and deconstructs features of a song.
The results from this study revealed that there was a connection between empathy levels and music preferences. Specifically, the authors found that individuals who demonstrated high scores on the empathetic cognitive style had a preference for mellow music such as R&B/soul and soft rock . Additionally, those with high empathy scores preferred low energy, gentle music with emotional depth and enjoyed country, folk and contemporary music. In contrast, those who had low empathy levels were shown to enjoy intense music such as heavy metal and hard rock. Also, those high on systemizing enjoyed music that was high in energy, complex and made them feel positive.This research reveals to us that the way an individual thinks about the music they hear can impact whether or not they enjoy it. Additionally, this study shows us that people's unique thinking style or cognitive style of thinking actually predicts their preferences for certain types of music. This is important research because it shows that individual differences among cognitive styles can shape the music that is produced, released, purchased and listened to within a given society. Additionally, the genres that dominate popular culture music may actually reveal many details about a society and what individuals within it think about the songs they listen to.
Greenberg, D., Baron-Cohen, S., Stillwell, D., Kosinski, M., & Rentfrow, P. (2015). Musical preferences are linked to cognitive styles. PLoS ONE, 10(7). doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0131151