You are What You Listen to

Or, so says a study done by the psychology departyment at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh:

“People who listen to indie bands are miserable shaggy-haired layabouts, while fans of rap music are bold, brash and brimming with self-confidence.

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, that our musical tastes really do reflect our personality. 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.”

I’m not sure how seriously anyone can take this kind of pop-science reporting, and if this news story is to be trusted, the methodology seems to be a little bit suspect:

“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.”

First, there is a question of causation: do people listen to indie music because they are diffident, or are they diffident because they listen to indie music? I believe John Cusack’s character asked a variation of the same question in the very first scene of High Fidelity.

Second, I wonder how sensitive the coding scheme is: after all, the coding scheme assumes the existence of discrete genres that do not take into account all popular genres (for example, it does not even include jazz!), let alone all the plausible sub-genres. This inherently is biased against people who have extensive knowledge of the genres being coded.

Third, I have no idea how this study accounted for people who listen to a broad range of music and have a difficult time choosing just one favorite genre: in other words, people like me. Again, the story itself is not clear about the methodology: if people could only give one answer, then the answers would seem to be arbitrary for people who have trouble making up their minds. Or, if people are allowed to give multiple answers and rank them according to preference, the method might be sounder. Again, I have no idea, and these pop-science stories never really tell you the obscure but crucial methodological details.

But, the upshot of all of this is the following results:

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.”

*Cue snarky comment about how this explains why hipsters who listen to indie music are not mostly not employed.

But on a more serious tip: the results would be incoherent if someone liked all of the following. And this is not such an implausible claim for someone with sophisticated knowledge of music and/or someone who just listens to way too many records.


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