Does Music Reflect Who We Are?

As an avid music listener, I am constantly exploring new bands and artists to listen to. Sometimes, I will even find myself forming attachments to the music that I enjoy a lot. I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. I have heard many people say that a band has changed their life or that a band has gotten them through tough times. Many people also believe that music is a good creative outlet for self-expression. What is it though that allows us to become so attached? The null hypothesis in this case would be that music does reflect who we are as individuals and my alternate hypothesis would be that music is not a reflection of ourselves. This is the question I have always wanted to know the answer to and hopefully by doing research on this topic I will have an opportunity to find the answer.


First Study

Multiple studies at the University of Cambridge have been conducted to test the following theory: are you what you listen to? Researchers led by Dr. Jason Rentfrow have employed an experimental study that entails researching the link between musical taste and personality.

First, they formed sample groups. Rentfrow then asked them to consider six genres of music: rock, pop, electronic, rap, classical, and jazz. This was the only information that was provided to the subjects because researchers were interested in the assumptions people would make. Next, the subjects were asked to assign each fan a rating depending on different personality types: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. All of these qualities would be considered as soft endpoints because they are all based off of emotions and characteristics and are not factual. Afterwards, subjects rated fans on qualities such as intelligence, physical attractiveness, and athleticism. In order to be more comprehensive, subjects were also assessed on a total of eighteen different values that fans might find important. To add to the list, they were also assessed on social class and ethnicity in order to provide more personal background information.

These results reinforce the idea that music is a very powerful form of self-expression.Music is also a way to reinforce stereotypes because we are often quick to make assumptions based off of tastes. For example, in the study jazz fans were viewed as friendly people and emotionally stable, but also were not good with responsibility. This demonstrates that people have a tendency of making statements of self-expression through self-image and personality types.

There are a few factors of this study that could have been conducted differently. For example, the researchers didn’t utilize a single-blind study which decreases the chance for efficiency since a single-blind study is a study where the researchers, but not the subjects know of the treatment that is being implemented into the study. Since there were so many topics the subjects were being assessed on I believe that they should have been broken down to either separate tests or separate portions.


Study Two

Six years ago Dr. Adrian North conducted a cross-sectional study to find the answer to the following question: Is there a connection between music style and an individual’s personality? North started this study by surveying 36,518 people. These people were from over 60 different countries and had a total of 104 different music styles in addition to a description of their personalities. As a result, North found that people who preferred music such as opera, jazz, and classical usually had a higher income in comparison to other people that preferred to listen to different music. A third confounding variable that could potentially affect this study is that there are too many people from one place or region, therefore it would not be an equal distribution of representation. With this study I would say there would be a possibility of reverse causation at play because an individual’s personality can very well affect someone’s music style and vice versa.

The downside of this observational study was that some participants did not give honest responses. This is because these people wanted to present a certain image of themselves and knew that their music taste could portray their values and personality types.

In my opinion the idea of this experiment was good, but the overall implementation could have been improved. I think having a meta-analysis study is smart because it allows you to have varied information.Scientists conduct meta-analyses because it’s an effective way of gathering more information by combining data from individual studies. In a way, this is like the prayer study because even though the experiment was conducted well it turned out to be incorrect due to other scientists continuing to do the same study as well as participating in peer review.


This image depicts different personality types with different genres of music.


Take Home Message

Although the second study was observational, the overall results displayed that music can be a very powerful form of self-expression that correlates music with a reflection of who we are as people. There was a need for a meta-analysis because the information from meta-analyses are very insightful and comprehensive. Overall even though both of the studies slightly differed, the point that was emphasized in both is important to the main idea.

2 thoughts on “Does Music Reflect Who We Are?

  1. Matthew Edward Simco

    I think music really does define who someone is. Typically, people listen to music that they can relate to. Somebody listening to hard core rap may experience some of the same issues as what is said in the song. There is a good chance if somebody is listening to country music then they are southern and enjoy the country lifestyle. Yes, there are exceptions, but I think that for the most part, music does define who somebody is. The article below talks about what researchers have learned about the power of music.

  2. Jacob Alexander Loffredo

    The music people listen to truly does tell a lot about who they are and what they stand for as well as the activities they partake in. The way I look at it I see the rap and hip hop as the kids that like to party, the rock and roll as more of the laid back surfer kids, and the jazz and classical music kids are the musicians; this is at least the social part of how it was back at my high-school. Every area has different correlations music and stereotypes that for the most part I think are usually pretty spot on. This is a article that shines light on society and the identities that come along with different types of music. The point I made, that all geological areas have a different perspective on the people that are listening to whatever type of music they do is why I think that the seconds study is flawed; the geological area that you perform that study in has such a impact on the results that it could only be done correctly on a global scale.

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