By Lee Billings, published on January 1, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Just as a glimpse inside a bedroom or office provides clues about someone's character, so too can a peek at his music collection.
The question "What kind of music do you like?" is so revealing, it is the number one topic of conversation among young adults who are getting to know each other, according to psychologists Jason Rentfrow of the University of Cambridge in the U.K., and Sam Gosling at the University of Texas at Austin. Knowing whether a person prefers John Coltrane to Mariah Carey, or Puccini to Prince allows for remarkably accurate personality predictions, their research has found.
What do your tunes say about you? PT faces the music.
Strangers can accurately assess another person's level of creativity, open-mindedness and extroversion after listening to his or her top 10 favorite songs. Rentfrow thinks that personality clues are conveyed in the music's tempo, rhythm and lyrics.
Fans of jazz, classical and other "complex" music typically have above-average IQ scores.
Fans of country and Top 40 hits tend to be more conventional, honest and conservative compared with fans of other genres. "People who like country and pop might be more simpleminded, and that's not necessarily bad," says Rentfrow. "They just avoid making things unnecessarily complex."
Compared with other music fans, opera aficionados are three times more likely to endorse suicide as a solution to family dishonor, says Steven Stack, a psychologist at Wayne State University in Michigan. Don't blame Madame Butterfly. Stack says dramatic personalities are drawn to opera, not influenced by it.
Parents often worry that music—whether it's Elvis or Eminem—promotes sexual or aggressive behavior in teens. Rentfrow's work has found no direct link.
In fact, fans of gangsta rap or heavy metal are often more timid and shy than other kids, he says.
Extroverts gravitate to music with a heavy bass line, according to a Northeast Louisiana University study.
Whether you can study or work efficiently while listening to music may depend on how outgoing you are. Background music can help extroverts focus, but tends to torment introverts.
It may work for Rocky Balboa, but music doesn't always pump up athletes. Motivational music can give weightlifters an edge. Runners, however, don't move farther or faster with the help of motivational music.
Fans of energetic music like dance and soul are more likely to impulsively blurt out their thoughts, compared with fans of other styles.