If you know someone who doesn't seem to score too high on the empathy scale and you also know that they like to get down to Blackstreet's 1996 hit "No Diggity" and Eminem's "Lose Yourself" from 2002, you might just have a psychopath on your hands.

A preliminary study led by New York University professor Pascal Wallisch ponders a possible connection between musical preferences and psychopathy.

A few years ago, Wallisch's lab began by selecting 260 random songs from Billboard's Hot 100 list dating back to 1942, lists of iconic songs from diverse genres and a few dozen songs from obscure genres.

The team analyzed the results of music preference tests as well as the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, which are both taken by beginning psychology students at the start of the semester.

They found some songs more strongly linked to high or low psychopathy scores than others. "No Diggity" and "Lose Yourself" were just two tracks from a list of a few dozen songs associated with higher psychopathy scores. "My Sharona" by The Knack and "Titanium" by Sia were found to be associated with lower psychopathy scores.

Wallisch told the New York Daily News that they found 30 songs associated with psychopathy, but only released the names of two songs so as not to taint future research.

He emphasizes that the work is preliminary and will hopefully be followed up by a larger follow-on study. He laid out the early findings on his blog:

What becomes apparent on the basis of our preliminary work is that we can basically rule out the popular stereotype that people with psychopathic tendencies have a preference for classical music and that we *might* be able to predict these tendencies on the basis of combining data from *many* songs--individual songs won't do, and neither will categories as broad as genre (or gender, race, or SES). To confirm these patterns, we need much more data. That's it.

He hopes that data will include thousands more songs and participants. If strong associations can be found between music preference and psychopathy, it might be used in the future to identify potential psychopaths.

"As a society, we'll have to come to terms with the fact that psychopaths exist--they are out there, so we want to be able to identify them so we know who they are," Wallisch says. "As of now, we can't do that, because they tend to lie, including on the tests that are supposed to diagnose them."

Published on: Apr 18, 2018
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