Who Are You?: What Your Playlist Says About You


Alexandra Risi

In our lives, there are a multitude of decisions we can make that define who we are. One choice we make is the type of music we listen to. Music has different meanings to different people, whether you use it to relax, get excited for a big party, or even just listen to it for creative inspiration. There’s a music genre for everyone, like funky indie pop, elegant classical music, or powerful heavy metal. No matter what music you choose to listen to, the music that you enjoy can actually reflect your personality, and have an impact on the decisions you will make in the future!

There have been multiple psychological studies about the music people choose and their personalities, showing how the two correlate with each other. For example, Professor Adriann North of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh conducted a study for three years where he interviewed more than 36,000 people in 60 countries regarding their personality and preferred music genres. His results were pretty similar within each genre. Those who listened to blues music had more self esteem and were creative and outgoing, while those who listened to rock and heavy metal had low self esteem and weren’t as outgoing, despite still being creative. An interesting piece of research North came across was regarding classical music lovers and heavy metal lovers. While younger crowds tended to resonate with heavy metal, and the older folks were bigger fans of classical, they displayed fairly similar personality traits. Each music genre had a set group of personality traits that went along with it, and although not everyone fit the mold of their preferred genre, the information collected in this study could help with the theory that subconsciously, we pick our music based on our defining characteristics.

Another study that helps to prove this theory is one performed by Jason Rentfrow, a graduate student at the University of Texas, and Samuel Gosling, a psychologist and Rentfrow’s mentor. Together, the two collected the music preferences of many undergraduate students at their University and analyzed the music people chose from their internet file-sharing services. Through this study, they found that people’s music choice could reflect their personality, including athleticism, verbal ability, and political orientation. The music that people preferred often fell into four general categories: reflective and complex, intense and rebellious, upbeat and conventional, and energetic and rhythmic. Those who preferred the “reflective and complex” music seemed to be more open-minded, scored higher in terms of verbal ability and self-perceived intelligence, and tended to be more politically liberal. On the other hand, people who were drawn to upbeat and conventional music were more extroverted, had high self-perceived attractiveness and athleticism, and were more politically conservative. This particular part of Rentfrow’s research was part of a bigger study to find a correlation between a person’s personality and the activities they participated in in their everyday lives. Two of the main factors that affected the students’ music choice were their mood and activities that they had planned for the day, although personal fears and anxieties could also influence someone towards a certain type of music. Rentfrow learned some valuable information throughout his study, including how truly important music can be to a person and how it can act as a form of self expression. 

People often define themselves through music, and both of these studies come to the similar conclusion that music can show a lot more than what someone likes to dance to. This may explain why people (at least I) get defensive when others don’t like our favorite songs, because it is like we are sharing a part of ourselves with them. Don’t feel too much pressure to pick the most perfect songs after reading this article, though! I’m sure whatever you choose will have an important meaning to you, and show the world around you what makes you unique.