What Does Your Playlist Say About Your Personality?

HowStuffWorks Now: Your Personality Shapes Your Musical Tastes HowStuffWorks

Your musical tastes are closely tied to your personality. In fact, a recent research paper published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science says that personality appears to play a more important role in the types of music you enjoy than your gender, age, socioeconomic status or cultural background.

That's not to say a simple personality test will reveal to the world that you're a secret disco fanatic or that your MP3 player is filled with Nickelback's albums. Since music genres aren't scientific, the study dismisses them entirely. Some songs might be difficult to classify or fall into more than one category. And even songs in the same genre can be dramatically different from one another.


The researchers wanted to see how a person's preference for certain traits in Western music correspond with different personality types. They identified three dimensions of music that are important: arousal, valence and depth.

Arousal refers to whether a song pumps you up or soothes you. Songs with an intense rhythm and driving melody fall into the high arousal range. Think of the type of stuff you'd listen to in a gym or on a run. Songs with low arousal are more mellow — the type of stuff you might associate with a lounge act.

Valence is an emotional spectrum. Songs with a positive valence are happy songs. The tune, lyrics, beat and presentation evoke feelings of joy. A lot of pop songs fall into this category. If the tune has a negative valence, then it's moody, perhaps even sorrowful. Think of a mournful country music ballad about how you've been done wrong and are now on the right track.

Depth is all about complexity. A song with a lot of depth might have a lot of changes in tempo or complicated lyrics. Some of the greatest rap songs have amazing depth. A song with little depth is simpler and follows easily recognizable patterns. That doesn't make the song bad, necessarily. Many of the most popular songs on the charts aren't particularly deep.

The researchers invited 9,454 people on Facebook to participate in the study. First the participants listened to 50 pieces of unfamiliar music and rated their preferences. The music samples had different levels of arousal, valence and depth.

Next the participants took a standard personality test. The results gave researchers a glimpse into each participant's personality. The researchers then compared the personality results with the findings from the music samples.

They found that the same personality types gravitate toward music that emphasized the same levels of arousal, valence and depth. For example, people with neurotic tendencies tend to prefer music with high levels of intensity and sadness. And people who consider themselves adventurous and liberal prefer more joyful songs. These preferences transcend genres. One neurotic participant might only listen to country music and another to rock, but both would seek out songs within their preferred genre that had similar levels of the three dimensions.

If you're curious about your musical tastes and personality, you can take a similar test. You may turn out to be an extroverted lover of They Might Be Giants like me!