Why do people like jazz music

Taste in music reveals the style of thinking

Bach or Stravinsky? Punk or pop? Blues or Acid Jazz? Our musical preferences reveal how empathically or systematically we think. As an experiment shows, our cognitive disposition can even be read from our preferences within a musical genre - regardless of gender or other personality type, as the researchers report in the specialist magazine “PLOS ONE”.

Music is a global phenomenon: it is found in almost every culture and it has various positive effects on our body and mind. What kind of music we are listening to can even be read in our brain. Whether we like a piece or not reveals a lot more about our personality.

More empathic or systematic?

David Greenberg from the University of Cambridge and his colleagues have now investigated whether and how our taste in music also provides information about our cognitive style. Psychologists use it to describe a person's tendency to react empathically to their environment or to react systematically and rationally - more interested in the rules and mechanisms behind things.

For their experiment, they asked 4,000 test subjects to fill out an extensive online psychological questionnaire in order to record their personality and cognitive style. The participants then listened to 50 pieces of music from 26 different genres and were asked to rate how much they liked the pieces.

Clear assignment

The result was surprisingly clear and independent of the other personality type and gender: Those who had high empathy values ​​preferred soft, unpretentious music with a rather sad topic and avoided intense styles - they tend to listen to soft rock, pop, blues or Latin rather than punk or heavy Metal, as the researchers explain. More systematic people, on the other hand, liked more complex, loud, intense and stimulating music.

Preferences of the empathic type (type E), the balanced and the systematic type (type S) © Greenberg et al. / PLOS ONE, doi: 0.1371 / journal.pone.0131151

"Although musical tastes change over time, the level of empathy and thinking style determines what music someone likes," says Greenberg. “The cognitive style can even better predict which music we prefer than our personality type.” Whether we listen to Norah Jones or Ornette Coleman jazz, whether Stravinsky or Bach and Coldplay or Slayer, reveals more about us than we think.

Readable even within a musical genre

These preferences were not only evident in the choice between different music genres, but even within one style: In jazz, empathetic people preferred simple, emotional pieces, while those who thought systematically preferred intense, complex jazz pieces. It was similar within classical music and pop.

"This research confirms how much music is a mirror of ourselves," says senior author Jason Rentfrow of the University of Cambridge. “Music expresses who we are - emotionally, cognitively and socially.” As the researchers explain, the new findings could even help to better understand phenomena such as autism. Because autistic people are considered to be extreme systematisers with below-average empathy - that is, extreme in terms of their cognitive style. (PloS ONE, 2015: doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0131151)

(University of Cambridge, July 23, 2015 - NPO)

23rd July 2015