Loaded Questions Much?

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.

Interesting comparison...

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.


Empiricus said...

And to think, I just took that test:

Hriot Watt People Into Music questionnaire

It asks me, "how old is your best friend." To that, I responded, "How old is Jesus?"

Seriously, though, "Please rate how important it is for you, from 0 to 10, that you share your musical preferences with the people listed below (e.g., romantic partner, best friend, friends in general, mother, father, etc.)." Yikes. If Newton were to publish this study, they'd hang him.

Besides, the list of possible musics, for which I was to indicate my preference (from 0-10), looked exactly like Billboard Mag, chock full of genres that have, well, been partitioned in smaller sub-genres for, I don't know, since ever. And I still don't know if Indian Ragas are in the "Rock" category, because of the whole Beatles thing, or they're in "Dance," because...of the bellydancers.

I would like to suggest a few things to our author friend, Chris Green (I rated him a 2; can't give him more than that, because I don't know him): 1) stop being a tool, 2) make sure your sources are accurate and credible, and 3) stop being a tool.

Sator Arepo said...

Okay...now I've seen the actual survey, and I oversimplified a little bit...but it's still pretty leading.

Questions about body odor? Wha?

Empiricus said...

Uh, dude? You clicked on the 16-23 year-old questionnaire...

And guessing by how much you throw around the swears, you've gotta be about 70, with a rolled-up newspaper beating kids off your lawn.

Though, I get it. Your eyes aren't what they used to be. That's fine.

Next time, try the 24 and older questionnaire. No body odor questions there.

Sator Arepo said...

Me? No. What? Who are you?

gustav said...

Don't all of those personality traits seem a bit on the nose. I mean could it possibly be that people's personalities are adapting to the culture they are surrounded with. Which raises the point I often try to make, which is that popular music has become more about cultural identity to most people than anything to do with music or personality. Image seems to be the driving factor. Most of those genres (though I have serious issues with those genres lines -- heavy metal and rock are more different than Baroque and Impressionism? Yes?), most of the genres are easily identified by general stereotypes and this brilliant study seemed to just reinforce those stereotypes.

Why don't you try to find out what it is in these genres of music that attracts those personalities. Is it lyrics, beat, hair-styles, or is it just what was popular at your high school? Do out-going people associate more with the plagal cadential figures of modern pop/C&W over the more traditional V-I relationships in rock/metal/rap? What about high self-esteemers -- is it snycopations? The timbral sameness of all this music? Please, I need ACTUAL reasons, not just stereotypical classification.

Strini said...

Ooh ooh! Marketing opportunity: Combination juke box/read-your-personality machine. Put in 50 cents, you get your chosen song AND a printout of your personality profile! You could even sell ad space on the printouts to matching fashion retailers.

Drop your quarters in and go about the rest of your day knowing exactly who you are! Put that sucker in the lobby at Indie concerts and you'd make a fortune.

Okay, who's ready to invest?


Sator Arepo said...


Hilarious. Perhaps we could throw in a Tarot card reading as well, you know, as a bonus.

AnthonyS said...

Is "adverse to overly general self analysis" a personality trait?


The pictures are fun to look at, though.