Personality and Music Preferences: The Influence of Personality Traits on Preferences regarding Musical Elements

By Kopacz, Malgorzata | Journal of Music Therapy, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Personality and Music Preferences: The Influence of Personality Traits on Preferences regarding Musical Elements


Kopacz, Malgorzata, Journal of Music Therapy


The purpose of this scientific study was to determine how personality traits, as classified by Cattell, influence preferences regarding musical elements. The subject group consisted of 145 students, male and female, chosen at random from different Polish universities. For the purpose of determining their personality traits the participants completed the 16PF Questionnaire (Cattell, Saunders, & Stice, 1957; Russel & Karol, 1993), in its Polish adaptation by Choynowski (Nowakowska, 1970). The participants' musical preferences were determined by their completing a Questionnaire of Musical Preferences (specifically created for the purposes of this research), in which respondents indicated their favorite piece of music. Next, on the basis of the Questionnaire of Musical Preferences, a list of the works of music chosen by the participants was compiled. All pieces were collected on CDs and analyzed to separate out their basic musical elements. The statistical analysis shows that some personality traits: Liveliness (Factor F), Social Boldness (Factor H), Vigilance (Factor L), Openness to Change (Factor Q1), Extraversion (a general factor) have an influence on preferences regarding musical elements. Important in the subjects' musical preferences were found to be those musical elements having stimulative value and the ability to regulate the need for stimulation. These are: tempo, rhythm in relation to metrical basis, number of melodic themes, sound voluminosity, and meter.

The subject of musical preferences is an unusually important one, both with regard to music therapy and for all methods and techniques in which music is employed. A knowledge of musical preferences is enormously significant in the selection of music for therapeutic work. Many studies show that music preferred by the client is comparable in its effectiveness to that chosen by the therapist, with regard to reduction of anxiety (Iwanaga & Moroki, 1999; Thaut&Davis, 1999).

For the purposes for this article, musical preferences have been defined as "the act of choosing, esteeming, or giving advantage to one thing over another through a verbal statement, rating scale response, or choice made from two or more alternatives" (Kuhn, 1980). In the literature on the subject, many factors can be identified as having considerable impact on musical preferences. These include personality traits (Burt, 1939; Daoussis & McKelvie, 1986; Klimas-Kuchtowa, 2000; McCown, Reiser, Mulhearn, & Williamson, 1997; Rawlings, Hodge, Sherr, & Dempsey, 1995).

Research into personality-dependent musical preferences has quite a long history. Most of it is associated with Eysenck's personality dimensions: extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism (Eysenck, 1958). Extraverts prefer usually homogenous, lively, emotional vigorous, sensual music, while introverts prefer intellectual, mystical, deep, introspective and restrained music (Burt, 1939; Klimas-Kuchtowa, 2000). In turn, psychoticism is significantly correlated with preferences for musical complexity. People with high levels of psychoticism prefer more complicated and complex pieces than people with low levels of psychoticism (Rawlings et al., 1995). Interesting findings emerged from research conducted by McCown et al. (1997). From this, it emerges that traits such as extraversion and psychoticism are positively correlated with preferences for works of music played back with amplified bass. Other research, by Furnham, Trew, and Sneade (1999), shows that music as a means of stimulation may aid cognitive activity in extraverts and suppress cognitive activity among introverts.

With the above consideration in mind, it was decided to check what relationships exist between personality traits, as classified by Cattell, and musical preferences. The choice of Cattell's theory was dictated by the fact that Cattell describes personality structure in a detailed way, separating out 16 factors. This is in accordance with the suggestions of Furman and Avison (1997), who claim that narrower dimensions of personality may be more useful in the study of artistic preferences. …

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