Personality and Musical Preferences

What your music preferences say about you

Are your musical preferences an accurate representation of who you are?

Before starting my presentation, use this link to take Rentfrow's music and personality test. This test will give you a basic idea about what your music preference says about your personality. Use that information and compare it to the information provided below.

Here are my results if you are interested in seeing what my music preference says about me:

The relationship between personality and music is important.

Music is everywhere. It is in the movies we watch, the advertisements we are exposed to and serves as a popular source of entertainment. For the typical American individual, "background and intentional music listening add up to more than five hours" of musical exposure a day (Levitin 2011). Companies use music to sell their products. Therapists use music for mood enhancement and emotion regulation. Teachers use music to maintain alertness and vigilance in the classroom. Individual’s use music as a form of self-expression. Music affects all areas of a person’s life. It can have an impact on how an individual thinks, acts, feels, or behaves. Music is a "ubiquitous social phenomenon (Rentfrow 2003)".

Music can provide a window into an individual's personality.

When studying personality, music can serve two purposes, it can help reinforce how someone sees themselves or it can communicate the way in which we wish to be seen by others (Rentfrow 2003). People enjoy listening to music that reflects their personality and self-affirms their identity. For example, extroverts take pleasure in socializing with others and as a result they tend to spend more time at parties and other social gatherings where upbeat/conventional and energetic/rhythmic music is played. As a result, extroverts will listen exclusively to upbeat/conventional and energetic/rhythmic music because it reflects who they are as social butterflies. Individuals seek musical genres that reinforce their own self views and accurately depict who they are socially. Music can also serve as a form of self-reflection and identity discovery. Individuals will recognize perceived qualities in themselves that are associated with the genre they prefer serving as a “vehicle for identity development and exploration (Rentfrow 2012)”. Music is embedded into an individual's social identity making it an innate part of their personality.

Music serves as a form of social communication.

Musical preference serves as form of self-expression. It is a way of communicating an individual's personality as well as their values, attitudes, and beliefs to others. Music serves as an “identity badge to broadcast information about ourselves to others (Rentfrow 2012)”. Knowing what music preference an individual has reveals a great deal of insight into what they find important. For example, individuals who enjoy reflective and complex music tend to value education and being open to new ideas while people that enjoy energetic and rhythmic music are usually more extroverted and tend to value social interaction. Music informs others of who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to be seen in a social context. It is how we connect with and be understood by the world around us.

"Music is used to identify oneself as a part of a group, make life-long friends, or even choose an intimate partner (Carpentier 2003)."

Individual differences in music preferences:

Music choices are shaped, formed, and crystallized during adolescence. Music preference is impacted in large by our personalities. Everyone's personality is different. There are a variety of individual differences in music selection due to the vast differences in an individual’s opinions, values, and lifestyles. People find music that reflects who they are as a person. Each person is different; therefore their musical preferences are different. Even though musical choices are different, they tend to remain stable throughout an individual's life.

The different dimensions of musical preference:

In 2003, Peter Rentfrow published his work on personality and its influence on musical preference. In his article, he outlined the four basic types of musical classification: reflective/complex, intense/rebellious, upbeat/conventional, and energetic/rhythmic. There have been numerous music and personality studies that have used the four genre system of identifying musical types. In 2012, Rentfrow revised his musical genre criteria. He concluded that there are five different music-preference dimensions instead of the original four: mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, and contemporary. There has not been sufficient experimentation using the five new categories of musical preference, so for the purpose of this project, the first four genres of music were used instead of the five newer dimensions.

Chico and Rita Exclusive Clip: Jazz Music Legends

The reflective and complex genre of music facilitates self observation and is structurally complex. This genre is one of the more sophisticated musical styles that emphasis self reflection and cognition. Classical, jazz, folk, and blues would all be considered complex and reflective forms of music. This genre of music is generally the lowest rated form of music simply because there are fewer individuals that enjoy listening to it.

Common personality traits shared by individuals who enjoy reflective and complex music:

Reflective and complex musical preferences tend to be associated with individuals who exhibit high levels of openness to experience, self-perceived intelligence, and political liberalism. They enjoy contemplating new ideas and have a high regard for the complexity of reflective music. However, preference of this type of music is negatively correlated with athleticism. Overall individuals that prefer reflective and complex music "tend to be inventive, have active imaginations...[are] tolerant of others and consider themselves to be intelligent (Rentfrow 2003)". Individuals seek out reflective and complex music to broaden their minds to new ideas as well as to feed their need to be constructive and sophisticated.

Intense and Rebellious

Fahmi Dkhil

Metallica - Enter Sandman by Fahmi Dkhil
This genre of music is usually full of energy and often emphasis themes of rebelliousness and misunderstanding. This form of music is usually loud, distorted, and aggressive. Rock, alternative, and heavy metal are several sub-types of intense and rebellious music. Adolescents and young adults primarily enjoy listening to intense and rebellious music.

Personality traits and Intense/Rebellious music

Personality characteristics commonly shared among individuals who listen to intense and rebellious music include high levels of openness to experience, athleticism, and sensation seeking. Aggression and rebelliousness are two personality characteristics that are often seen in individuals that listen to intense and rebellious music. However, it is hard to conclusively determine if aggression and rebelliousness are common individual personality traits or simply an emotional response to the violent content of the lyrics. There is also a negative correlation to agreeableness in individuals that listen to intense and rebellious forms of music. People who enjoy this genre of musical expression tend to be curious, impulsive, physically active, and obnoxious.

Controversy surrounding Intense and rebellious music

One of the big arguments surrounding personality and musical preference research concerns the relationship between intense and rebellious music and an individual's level of agreeableness. When Peter Rentfrow concluded his study of music and personality in 2003, he reported no relationship between neuroticism and disagreeableness in individuals who listened to intense and rebellious music more then any other genre. Francesca Carpentier disagreed with Rentfrow's findings. She found that those individuals who listened to intense and rebellious music tended to be more aggressive and rebellious then those who listened to other any of the other genres. The hostile content of the lyrics as well the harsh sound of intense/rebellious music triggered aggressive thoughts and feelings in individuals that listened to it. Today, low levels of agreeableness tend to be associated with individuals that prefer intense and rebellious styles of music.

Upbeat and Conventional

Taylor Swift

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift
The upbeat and conventional style of music usually conveys positive emotion and has a simple musical structure. Most upbeat and conventional types of music follow a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus structure. This form of music is uncomplicated and fun. Several sub-types of this form of music include: country, pop, soundtrack, and religious.

How does personality relate to upbeat and conventional music?

The upbeat and conventional style of music is the most widely used genre out of the three. It is most commonly found on the radio and in popular movies, television ads, and commercials. Individuals who listen to upbeat and conventional music tend to be extroverted, agreeable, conscientious, and narcissistic. These people are cheerful, outgoing, and helpful. They have high levels of self-perceived physical attractiveness and find enjoyment in helping others. Upbeat and conventional musical preferences are negatively correlated to traits of openness, liberalism, and verbal ability. These individuals are comfortably set in their ways and have very little openness to new ideas.

Energetic and Rhythmic


Smash by Landis & Corporate Slackrs by House.NET
This genre of music is lively and puts more emphasis on the rhythm and less on the structure of the song. This form of music is usually fast paced, loud, and dynamic. Energetic and rhythmic music includes rap, soul, electronica/dubstep, and dance. This form of music is most commonly found in clubs or at other social gatherings.

Personality characteristic associated with preference for energetic and rhythmic music:

Individuals who enjoy energetic and rhythmic forms of music tend to be extroverted, agreeable, athletic, and personable. They also tend to high levels of blirtatiousness in the way the communicate with others. Blirtatiousness refers to the tendency to talk a great deal and have high interpersonal responsiveness in social situations. People who enjoyed energetic and rhythmic music are talkative, energetic, friendly and vain. The tendency to prefer energetic and rhythmic music is negatively correlated to social dominance orientation and conservatism. Having high levels of social dominance orientation is associated with the need to separate social classes. Individuals who enjoy rhythmic and energetic music have no desire to assert themselves as part of a higher social class. They want to get along and be social with everyone regardless of ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.


Music is an important part of everyday life. It affects all aspects of life from emotion regulation to group identification. It communicates the way in which we wish to be seen by others as well as the way in which we see ourselves. Music serves as a way of identifying who you are and who you want to become. Individual personality traits are made evident through our music choices. Music is built into who we are as a social, emotional, and physical human being. Personality and music choice are two concepts that depend on one another.