Musical tastes in tune with who you are

9 Sep

Friday, September 5, 2008 | 8:29 PM ET
CBC News

Fans of heavy metal music are gentle, creative people who are at ease with themselves, which makes them very similar to fans of classical music.

That’s the finding of a new study at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University of the link between peoples’ personalities and their choice of music.

Adrian North, the professor behind the study, said he was surprised at the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal, especially their creativity and generally shy natures.

“The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and of being a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things,” he said in an interview with the BBC.

North suggests that music lovers tend to identify with the characteristics of the music itself.

“We think, what we think the answer is, that both types of music, classical and heavy metal, both have something of the spiritual about them — they’re very dramatic — a lot happens.”

The study of more than 36,000 people from six different countries found that people had more in common with fans of their favourite music in other countries than they had with fellow citizens who preferred different styles of music.

North describes it as a new kind of tribalism, based on musical taste.

“We have always suspected a link between music taste and personality,” North said.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to look at it in real detail. No one has ever done this on this scale before.”

Jazz fans tend to be creative and outgoing, with high self-esteem, in keeping with the innovative and sociable nature of the music.

Country western fans were found to be hard-working, but introverted, fitting with the blue-collar image of country music.

The research concluded soul music lovers are a well-rounded bunch — creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease with themselves and with high self-esteem.

Rap fans are outgoing and far from gentle, while indie music lovers lack both self-esteem and the work ethic.

“Researchers have been showing for decades that fans of rock and rap are rebellious, and that fans of opera are wealthy and well-educated,” North said.

He also made a link between income bracket and musical tastes, with more affluent consumers liking more exciting, punchy music while those lower down the pay scale preferring more relaxing sounds.

North said his research might have applications in commercial marketing of music.

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