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Fans Are Drawn to Musicians Who Feel Like Kindred Spirits

The public persona of a musical artist attracts like-minded fans. 

Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

Music fans tend to gravitate towards musical artists who convey a public persona that mirrors their personality traits, according to a new study on what the researchers are calling "the self-congruity effect of music." This paper (Greenberg et al., 2020) was published on July 2 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

For this large-scale, three-part study, an international team of psychologists led by David Greenberg of Bar-Ilan University recruited over 86,000 participants and used Big Data to test their hypothesis that a musician's public persona influences listeners' preferences.

In total, 86,570 participants responded to the lyrics and persona ratings of 50 diverse and iconic musicians and bands; these musical performers included some of the most famous "rock stars" and "divas" in the Western world.

The public personas referenced for this study on the "self-congruity effect of music" included Grammy-winning artists such as Beyoncé, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Whitney Houston, and musical groups like Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, and The Rolling Stones.

Of the three studies, both the first study (N = 6,279) and the second study (N = 75,296) showed that the public personality of a musical artist correlates with the personality of their listeners. The third study (N = 4,995) built on the findings of the first and second studies by "showing that the fit between the personality of the listener and the artist predicts musical preferences incremental to the fit for gender, age, and even the audio features of music."

Taken together, these findings suggest that musical artists' public personas may play a more significant role in attracting loyal fans than previously believed. As the authors explain: "Across three studies, we show that people prefer the music of artists who have publicly observable personalities ('personas') similar to their own personality traits." As mentioned, this phenomenon is what they've coined the "self-congruity effect of music."

In a news release, the authors make clear that "it's important to note that the perceived personality or public 'persona' of the musicians were measured—not their actual personalities."

Source: Pixabay

This pioneering research puts the social power of music in the spotlight. Being part of a fan base can create a sense of belonging that brings people together. Along this line, based on my own life experience and previous research about form and function in human song (Mehr et al., 2018), I firmly believe dance songs can dissolve differences that divide us. "In today's world, where social divisions are increasing, our studies are showing us how music can be a common denominator to bring people together," Greenberg said in the news release.

This study also highlights how identifying with the personality traits of a musician who feels like a kindred spirit can have positive psychological benefits for the listener. "The findings can be applied to situations involving mental health," co-author Andrew Schwartz of Stony Brook University noted. "For example, in times of stress and uncertainty, listeners can seek music of artists with similar personalities to themselves and feel understood and a sense of connectedness."

Anecdotally, I can corroborate that feeling a strong sense of connectedness to the public personas of various rock stars, pop stars, and disco divas has fortified my authenticity, ability to have fun, and overall psychological well-being since childhood. (See "The Halo Effect Created by Feeling Authentic and Being Fun")

Blogger's note: In a follow-up post, I'm going to filter the latest study on "the self-congruity effect of music" through other recent research on how role models who break the mold facilitate identity construction during adolescence (Ronkainen et al., 2019). Musicians you admire can also facilitate a self-nudging technique called "copy-paste prompts" (Mehr et al., 2020) that promote goal achievement.

Update (July 07, 2020): Here's the follow-up post, "Using Rock-Star Personas as Identity-Construction Blueprints"


David M. Greenberg, Sandra C. Matz, H. Andrew Schwartz, Kai R. Fricke. "The Self-Congruity Effect of Music." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (First published online: July 02, 2020) DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000293