Saturday, August 1, 2015

Musical Preferences are Linked to Cognitive Styles

August 5, 2015: Over at Language Log Mark Liberman points out that the effects reported in this article are quite small. Whatever is being explained in this study, it isn't very much.

Greenberg DM, Baron-Cohen S, Stillwell DJ, Kosinski M, Rentfrow PJ (2015) Musical Preferences are Linked to Cognitive Styles. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0131151. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131151

Abstract: Why do we like the music we do? Research has shown that musical preferences and personality are linked, yet little is known about other influences on preferences such as cognitive styles. To address this gap, we investigated how individual differences in musical preferences are explained by the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory. Study 1 examined the links between empathy and musical preferences across four samples. By reporting their preferential reactions to musical stimuli, samples 1 and 2 (Ns = 2,178 and 891) indicated their preferences for music from 26 different genres, and samples 3 and 4 (Ns = 747 and 320) indicated their preferences for music from only a single genre (rock or jazz). Results across samples showed that empathy levels are linked to preferences even within genres and account for significant proportions of variance in preferences over and above personality traits for various music-preference dimensions. Study 2 (N = 353) replicated and extended these findings by investigating how musical preferences are differentiated by E-S cognitive styles (i.e., ‘brain types’). Those who are type E (bias towards empathizing) preferred music on the Mellow dimension (R&B/soul, adult contemporary, soft rock genres) compared to type S (bias towards systemizing) who preferred music on the Intense dimension (punk, heavy metal, and hard rock). Analyses of fine-grained psychological and sonic attributes in the music revealed that type E individuals preferred music that featured low arousal (gentle, warm, and sensual attributes), negative valence (depressing and sad), and emotional depth (poetic, relaxing, and thoughtful), while type S preferred music that featured high arousal (strong, tense, and thrilling), and aspects of positive valence (animated) and cerebral depth (complexity). The application of these findings for clinicians, interventions, and those on the autism spectrum (largely type S or extreme type S) are discussed.

Music is a prominent feature of everyday life and a cultural universal [1, 2]. Each day we come across music of varying styles and characteristics, and we continually make judgments about whether or not we like the music we hear. When listening to a new song, it takes us just a few seconds to decide whether to press repeat, change to the next tune, or to buy it. However, little is known about what determines our taste in music. We address this gap in the literature by examining the cognitive and affective underpinnings of musical preferences.

Research over the past decade has argued that musical preferences reflect explicit characteristics such as age, personality, and values [3–6]. Indeed, findings across studies and geographic regions have converged to show that the Big Five personality traits are consistently linked to preferences [6–12]. For example, people who are open to new experiences tend to prefer music from the blues, jazz, classical, and folk genres, and people who are extraverted and agreeable tend to prefer music from the pop, soundtrack, religious, soul, funk, electronic, and dance genres [13].

Though these findings are consistent across studies, what is also consistent is that the results have small effect sizes (r < .30) when compared to benchmarks used in other psychological research [14]. This raises the question of whether there are additional psychological mechanisms that might account for individual differences in musical preferences. In this article we build on previous research by examining two dimensions that may be linked musical preferences: empathy and systemizing.

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