personality and musical preferences

Do you love folk music? It may be due to your empathetic nature. A new study in PLOS One shows there is a relationship between musical preferences and personality, as well as how we think.

(That is clearly the most journalistic lead I’ve ever written on this blog. Absurd! Who do I think I am.)

Recent reports on the study have appeared in The Atlantic, the BBC, and on NPR.

Says The Atlantic:

[Study author] Greenberg found that people who scored high on empathy tended to prefer music that was mellow (like soft rock and R&B), unpretentious (country and folk), and contemporary (Euro pop and electronica.) What they didn’t like, meanwhile, was “intense” music, which he classified as things like punk and heavy metal. People who scored high on systemizing, meanwhile, had just the opposite preferences—they kick back to Slayer and could do without Courtney Barnett.

To get even more specific, the music empathizers liked tended to be softer, more depressing, and have more emotional depth. Systemizers, meanwhile, grooved to things that were high-energy, animated, and complex. Empathizers liked strings; systemizers liked distorted, loud, and “percussive.”

Loving both mellow and intense music apparently indicates my empathetic systemizing nature. I straddle the line, which I already knew. But what I’m curious to know is if at any given moment musical preference can indicate current capacity for empathy. For example, if I’m listening to Skinny Puppy would I be less inclined to listen to someone’s troubles than if I were listening to Nick Drake?

Leave a comment


  1. I guess (I mean, I know) I’ve become more empathetic (and less systemising) as I’ve got older – which has certainly coincided with me listening to a lot more folk music, in both its specific and broader senses.

    As for your question, much as I love Nick Drake, his world is so solipsistic, that he’s maybe not the best opposition to put up against Skinny Puppy! But to illustrate your point, I do still listen to the Stooges when I need to let off steam (and am at my least empathetic).

    • Agreed about ND vs. SP. I confess to not putting serious thought into my choice of contrasting artists. I’m actually having a hard time coming up with something more appropriate to reflect my empathetic side. Perhaps that is a bad sign…

      The Stooges are certainly a fine choice as accompaniment to steam release, though. Raw Power, indeed!

  2. I do wonder if it is an age thing or a personality thing when it comes to having a broad taste in music. Does it suggest a person’s openness and acceptance of others? I guess my choice of music can reflect a lot on my mood and it’s nice to have that freedom to listen to music that indicates my mood or changes it. One day I could be listening to Dimmu Borgir the next Hammock.

    • Yeah, I agree about mood. Seasons also affect it for me. My musical taste definitely widened as I got older to a certain point, but now I think it’s solidified to where I don’t stray too far outside favorite genres. Although every once in a while I still stumble into uncharted territory.

      Oh, that reminds me…I saw Earth play recently with Holy Sons. I wasn’t really into Holy Sons, which is weird since I like Emil’s other bands. But Earth was great. I have to thank you again for tipping me off about them.

  3. That’s brilliant! Wish I could see them. I’m going to see OM in November so I’m looking forward to that. Going to try to drag a few friends to that too.

    • I’m sure OM will be good. No word on when they’ll be touring in the States next.

      (No one was wiling to be dragged to see Earth…)



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