I hate broad, sweeping generalizations. I also hate research that is based on loaded questions. Keep with me, gentle readers, this is going to take a few minutes.
Chris Green of the British journal The Independent reports on a (Scottish!) study correlating personality to musical taste. I submit that many other factors also play a role. Looking at the survey results, the questions were, in my estimation, rather loaded.
Classical to Rap: Music lovers have much more in common than you would think
People who listen to indie bands are miserable shaggy-haired layabouts, while fans of rap music are bold, brash and brimming with self-confidence.
Sweeping generalization! Narrow-minded stereotyping! No?
Rather than mere narrow- minded stereotyping, these are the results of an extensive psychological survey of more than 36,000 music lovers, which confirms, once and for all,
Once and for all!11! 1 eleven!1!
that our musical tastes really do reflect our personality.
And...where you're from? And your economic/social class? And your peer group? And your social circle? And...and...and...
But the study's most remarkable discovery is that refined lovers of classical music share a high number of personality traits with those who prefer rocking out to heavy metal.
That's the study's...most remarkable discovery?
The research, by the department of psychology at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, asked people worldwide to describe their personality, and then to list their favourite musical genres. The results show a distinct correlation between people's personality traits and the style of music they enjoy.
But only their personalities? Could we similarly correlate how close one lives to, say, a meat packing plant? Or how often they eat fish? Drink beer? Any other factors relevant here?
Fans of indie music, for instance, were found to have low self-esteem and little motivation, but described themselves as creative. Rap enthusiasts, on the other hand, tend to think a lot of themselves and are extremely outgoing. Those who love dance music are equally extrovert but are more likely to be unfriendly and slightly self-centred.
Just because you describe yourself as creative doesn't mean you are. And so on with all of the other descriptors. And "dance music" (polkas? minuets?) lovers are not friendly? Ever been to a club?
Professor Adrian North, who led the study, said: "What this research really tries to get at is why music is such an important part of people's identity. What is it about music that helps us to define who we are?
Professor, I am picking up what you're laying down. We could do the same thing with clothes, hairstyles, or any number of things. The one-to-one correlation you're selling seems like bunk to me. Sorry!
"People often define their sense of identity through their musical taste, wearing particular clothes, going to certain pubs, and using certain types of slang. It's not so surprising that personality should also be related to musical preference."
My point exactly. Why should "musical taste" be the primary correlative? That is illogical.
According to Professor North, both heavy metal and classical fans are united by a shared "love of the grandiose", which means that a Metallica fan is far more likely to listen to Mahler than an indie kid is to give reggae a try.
That is not entirely illogical. I'll grant you that. But the sweeping generalizations...
"Aside from their age difference, they're basically the same kind of person," he said. "Lots of heavy metal fans will tell you that they also like Wagner, because it's big, loud and brash. There's also a sense of theatre in both heavy rock and classical music, and I suspect that this is what they're really trying to get at when they listen."
John Gregson, 23, a classically-trained musician with a passion for heavy metal, agrees. "As an instrumentalist, out of all of the main genres of music heavy metal and classical are the ones which require the most discipline to play – they're technically very difficult and involve playing at inhumanly fast speeds," he said.
Let's cut to the conclusions, shall we? I think it will help.
What your music says about you
Indie: Devotees have low self-esteem and are not very hard-working, kind or generous. However, they are creative.
Rock 'n' Roll: Fans have high self-esteem and are very creative, hard-working and at ease with themselves, but not very kind or generous.
Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease with themselves.
Classical: Classical music lovers have high self-esteem, are creative and at ease with themselves, but not outgoing.
Heavy metal: Very creative and at ease with themselves, but not very outgoing or hard-working.
Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, kind, generous and at ease with themselves, but not very hard-working.
Country & Western: Very hard-working and outgoing.
Dance: Creative and outgoing but not kind or generous.
Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.
See, the thing is that when "asked to describe their personalities" the 36,000 people were clearly asked the following questions (rather than to describe themselves freely):
Are you generous? Hard-working? Outgoing? Kind? Creative? At ease with yourself? How is your self-esteem?
And...that's about it, according to the results above.
I submit that this is a poor correlative find.
Chanelling (paraphrasing?) Stephen Colbert: "Is Bush a great President? Or The Best President Ever?"
Here are some broad, sweeping generalizations that are fun to look at:
Figure 1: Indie
Figure 2: Rock 'n' Roll
Figure 3: Blues
Figure 4: Classical
Figure 5: Heavy Metal
Figure 6: Reggae
Figure 7: Country AND Western
Figure 8: Dance
Figure 9: Rap
I got your broad, sweeping generalizations right here! You like that? Me, neither.