Is jazz for intellectuals? Punk for creative non-conformists? Country for hard-working, easygoing folk? How interwoven is our love for music with our personalities, really?

It seems that music and the mind intermingle far more than you’d think. It is natural for the music you love to reflect your personality. Music becomes an outward manifestation of our deep internal workings. But, you’ve probably never realized just how linked your musical preferences are to the workings of your brain.

For starters, through extensive research, various genres have many times been tied to various personality traits. For instance, blues lovers tend to be outgoing, and generally at ease, whereas classical music fans tend to be introverted and creative. (Check out the study to see which personality traits match up with your favorite genre.) It’s all pretty interesting, but let’s take it a little deeper.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have been working to determine and clarify the link between a person’s particular manner of thinking and their musical taste. Their research has shown that 95 percent of people can be categorized into one of three groups of thinking, all of which are associated with different primary musical preferences:

Empathizers. Some people have the tendency to empathize. They put themselves in another’s figurative shoes on a regular basis. Unsurprisingly, these people usually tend towards soft rock, singer songerwriter or R&B—music with emotional depth. Those who empathize regularly usually work by understanding the emotions and needs of themselves and others.

Systemizers. A systemizer is one who analyzes and processes things. These types of people have a tendency to interpret tangible information such as mathematics, weather and technical mechanics. They are great with organization, categorization and are highly logical. Those with the propensity to systemize seem to prefer more intense music, such as rock, punk and heavy metal. Interestingly, it seems that hard-core systemizers also prefer music with complexity, such as avant-garde classical. In general, their musical choices are far more technical than the emotional.

Balanced. Yes, there are people who go both ways, both in musical preference and cognitive style. We are complex beings after all. Generally people have varying degrees of both empathizing and systemizing, so they are aptly considered ‘balanced.’ Like their way of thinking, the musical preference of  balanced thinkers can spread anywhere in between.

Depending on your thinking style, you likely fall into one of these three categories, each with their respective musical associations. But it doesn’t stop there. Interestingly, the researchers also found that those who scored high on ‘openness’ as a personality trait are the most likely to harbor musical talent, regardless of whether they have musical training, due to their being more imaginative and less confined to convention.

It is clear that the predetermined workings of the brain have a huge influence on our musical personalities, but does it work the other way around? Can music be used to shift your ways of thinking? Will listening to heartfelt ballads make you a bit more empathetic? Could listening to complex classical pieces bring out your intellectual, analytical side?

In a sense, yes, music can be utilized as a form of therapy. It can help those on the autism spectrum experience emotions that may feel a little beyond their grasp, helping them to understand others a little better. Used professionally, it also can potentially help those you have experienced trauma by safely finding a portal through which to express their internal, emotional buildup. Music is an incredibly powerful tool that can manipulate our emotions in the best, most eye-opening way.


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