Despite its sometimes dubious scientific basis, the personality testing industry rakes in around $2 billion annually telling companies their new hire is an INFJ or revealing her Hexaco type. A new study suggests your business might be able to save some money and just ask candidates about their taste in music instead.
Your taste in music really does give away your personality
We've all heard the popular stereotypes about fans of certain types of music. But are metalheads actually aggressive, classical music fans brainy, and emo kids prone to gloom? Can our taste in music suggest more than our current mood or fashion preferences and say something concrete about our personalities?
To find out, researchers from University of Cambridge and Israel's Bar-Ilan University used an online quiz to extract information on the musical preferences and personalities of more than 285,000 study subjects from 53 countries (you can try the quiz yourself here). They also set up a website where 71,000 visitors from 34 countries rated music clips and took a personality quiz.
The team used well-known, scientifically validated frameworks for categorizing both music and personality. The aptly named "Music" framework categorizes music using five dimensions: mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, and contemporary. The familiar Big 5 personality framework categorizes people according to openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness.
Did the research team find any correlations between the type of music someone enjoyed and their personality type? Yup, reported the researchers recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Extroverts the world over tend to like upbeat, danceable contemporary music. So if you want to check if that job candidate (or potential romantic match) really is outgoing, ask for their opinion of Ed Sheeran.
Worried you might be hiring someone high in neuroticism? Start a conversation about '90s grunge. The study found fans of the Nirvana classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and other intense music are higher in neuroticism on average. Those high in conscientiousness tended to avoid more intense music, however, so if you're looking for every "i" to be dotted, maybe skip the guy who comes in wearing a Rage Against the Machine T-shirt.
Looking for an agreeable type? Then put on some Marvin Gaye and see how they react. The researchers found a strong correlation between liking mellow music and being high in agreeableness.
All in all, the researchers were surprised by just how much musical taste transcended borders and revealed personality. "We were surprised at just how much these patterns between music and personality replicated across the globe. People may be divided by geography, language, and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as introverts elsewhere, that suggests music could be a very powerful bridge," study leader David Greenberg commented.
OK, maybe don't hire on the basis of musical taste alone ...
I am joking about selecting candidates on the basis of their taste in music, of course. There are far better ways to suss out a candidate's personality and skills, and the researchers are careful to caution that these correlations are averages. You shouldn't pigeonhole anyone on the basis of their favorite artist alone.
"We all have combinations of personality traits and combinations of musical preferences of varying strengths. Our findings are based on averages and we have to start somewhere to begin to see and understand connections," Greenberg notes.
But this research -- besides simply being a ton of fun -- does suggest that our instincts are basically right when it comes to taste in music and personality. What you love to listen to really can reveal a lot about you.
So while you should never cross off a candidate because of their favorite Spotify playlist (or write off a date for that matter--take it from me, a mellow music type married to a metalhead), you can be pretty sure that when people tell you about their taste in music, they're also telling you something about their personalities.