Scientists from the University of Cambridge have investigated how our personalities relate to our musical preferences. In particular whether or not we have an empathising brain or a systematising one.
People with empathising brains like to understand thoughts and emotions and were found to be more likely to prefer soft rock and R&B. “They wanted music with emotional depth that was thoughtful and poetic”. Mariah Carey and Bon Jovi were quoted as examples.
I don’t know who they thought was the R&B representative but they probably mean the modern definition of urban music not the gritty real thing like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, or Jimmy Reed.
People who were systematisers – the kind of people who are interested in the processes and the details – preferred music that was more intense such as punk, rock, and heavy metal. “They also wanted cerebral depth and complexity, classical, jazz and avant-garde music.”
I’m not sure how useful this distinction is given the range of musical tastes among the systematisers. I can understand the classical, jazz and avant gated but where is the complexity in punk and heavy metal?
FYI the idea of empathisers v systematisers was developed by Simon Baron-Cohen who is well known for his research into autism. He believes that people who are high on systematising tend are found at the autistic end of the spectrum.
His research is not without its critics e.g. he found that there were more women on the empathiser scale and more men on the systematiser scale. But there are more men than women who are on the autistic end of the spectrum sometimes described as having Asperger’s syndrome (i.e. attention to detail, preoccupation with a subject e.g. avid collectors). And yes, he is Ali G’s smarter cousin.
If you want to see for yourself whether you are more empathiser than systematiser go here for empathiser or systematiser questionnaire.
So apart from the duo’s activities anything that grabbed our attention music-wise was a potential post.
Surprisingly we posted over 100 posts last year, most with photos and many with music embedded. Our readership spans 80 countries although mostly in the UK, America and Brazil. And if you are surprised by Brazil what about people in the Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Thailand and Swaziland?
The most viewed parts of the blog were the “Blast from the past” section of archive photographs, followed by “Our musical influences” and “About us“.
The 5 most popular posts in 2014 were:
- PJ Proby and Tom Jones – two great voices – published in May 2014
- Duane Eddy – Twangy guitar hero – also published in May 2014
- Classical music lovers miss out on bargains – published in August 2014
- Acker Bilk – a great trad jazz artist and a man of his word – published in November 2014
- Top songs for that final farewell – published in November 2014
You will have read stories of people being awakened from comas when played their favourite music. A 5-year old girl in Burnley, Lancashire, was wakened from hers when she heard the James Blunt song “You’re Beautiful“. She’d been in a coma for 10 days after fracturing her skull in a fall from a balcony in 2006.
A 3-year old in Romford, Essex, was suffering from meningitis and woke up from a 3-day coma singing one of her favourite songs by Abba, “Mamma Mia”.
A 9-year old boy from South Wales was hit by a car on his birthday and was in a coma for 2 weeks until he heard “American Idiot” by Green Day.
Music has long been claimed to have therapeutic power and in religion chanting and singing create a meditative or uplifting state of mind. In these examples the music is influencing us at a pre-conscious level. See The Magical Power of Music
Music has also been shown to have powerful physical effects when combined with exercise. “If you co-ordinate your efforts with musical tempo or the rhythmic qualities of music then there will be a significant ergogenic or work-enhancing effect” says Dr Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University.
At low-to-moderate exercise intensities they have found a reduction in perceived exertion of 8-12% with carefully selected music. And when musical tempo is synchronised with work-rate you can increase endurance by up to 15%.
Perhaps this explains the practice of singing when marching or the origins of work songs in the plantations and elsewhere – music keeps you going longer and brings people together in a common cause. I’ve previously posted on the right kind of music to get you up and dancing.
Many elite athletes use music to create their own space and get into an aggressive mindset or to relax and focus their minds. See more on this here.
Picking the right songs is important says Dr Karageorghis, especially for non-elite athletes who might be less motivated than professionals. He suggests starting with songs at 120-140 bpm then building up to 140 bpm before taking it down to a resting heart-beat level of 70 bpm. FYI “Keep on Running” by the Spencer Davis Group is 140 bpm.
And if you can tie in the exercise precisely e.g. on a bike at 60 revolutions per minute using a song at 120 bpm, the results can be dramatic.
I’ve previously posted about the commercial impact of playing different types of music viz classical music in shops is associated with quality and leads to customers buying more expensive products.
Dr Adrian North at Heriot-Watt University says “virtually all aspects of consumer behaviour can be influenced by music“. Music can make us shop more quickly or more slowly and can influence us to increase the amount we spend or to make a venue seem more upmarket. The music connects with us and reminds us of meaningful things or things we have forgotten.
Market research (in 2010) showed than men and women have different preferences for music in relation to their consumer behaviour.
Artists that businesses were told men (aged 13 – 59) liked
- The Beatles
- Kings of Leon
- Red Hot Chilli Peppers
- Kaiser Chiefs
- Snow Patrol
- The Police
Artists that women (aged 13 – 59) preferred
- Black Eyed Peas
- Kings of Leon
- Take That
- Michael Jackson
- The Beatles
- Bon Jovi
- Robbie Williams
Does it work?
- Trials at a large fashion chain found that revenues rose by 2.5% when a playlist optimised for the target demographic group was played in its stores.
- A survey found that every 5 minutes the music played at a well-known UK women’s high street fashion chain encouraged 50% of shoppers to leave.
- A study in a supermarket found that when French music was played near a display of French and German wine the bottles of French wine outsold the German wine by 5 to 1.
- Given a choice 91% of people prefer a pub or bar that plays music.
And it’s not just people who are affected by music as it causes arousal in the brain. Cows give better milk yields when played slow music, dogs in an animal rescue shelter were less distressed when played classical music but barked more when they heard heavy metal music.
Which reminds me of the stories about the CIA using loud music as a way of encouraging prisoners to collaborate. A BBC News report claimed that music by the American heavy metal band Metallica, and from children’s TV programs Barney and Sesame Street, was being used to cause sleep deprivation and culturally offend Iraqi prisoners.
And it was also used in the case of the Panamanian Dictator Noriega to get him to leave his sanctuary and surrender. TheAmericans allegedly played hard rock music including Van Halen‘s “Panama” and broadcast the Howard Stern Show.
The United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have banned the use of loud music in interrogations but US interrogation experts, while accepting that it causes discomfort, say it doesn’t cause long term effects.
To finish on a more positive note experts claim that listening to boy bands helps to keep you young! I know it’s hard to believe but apparently listening to Westlife’s “Safe”, One Direction‘s “Midnight Memories“, Blue‘s “All Rise” and Take That’s “When we were Young” is recommended for their invigorating bounciness and the way the lyrics speak to the older generation. I suppose they’re a bit more positive than the lyrics to “My Generation” by The Who!
The study claims that the type of music you listen to directly affects your taste in wine and that drinkers sub-consciously buy wines that complement their favourite songs.
So fans of Katy Perry and Rihanna drink Sauvignon Blanc whereas those who prefer Arctic Monkeys or Motorhead (an unlikely pairing I would have thought) prefer Reisling.
If you’re a classical fan you prefer Gewurtztraminer as you listen to Beethoven or Bach.
Charles Spencer, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University says there could be some truth in this as wine and music pair well together as music changes the taste of the wine. “Heavy wines demand dark, heavy music and Sauvignon Blanc matches lighter music” He says that the kind of music people listen to makes them pick wine with similar properties.
“When you are choosing perfume you are often asked what your favourite colour is …… as this helps to identify the which scent you might like“. It’s even been proved that the type of music playing in the wine shop will bias your choice and that people buy significantly more expensive wine if classical music is playing rather than the top 40 as it influences them to look for more quality.
The wine company which carried out the survey say that “Sauvignon Blanc is a very accessible wine, light and zingy, and you could say similar to pop music. When they go together the experience is better and it’s the first choice of more than half of popular music fans” . They say rock fans prefer Reisling because of its classic petrol flavours (not to be confused with anti-freeze of course) and claim that one of their sommeliers says that the opening riff for Sweet Child of Mine by Guns and Roses sounds like Reisling.
The firm has created boxes of wine that come with Spotify playlists which include the likes of Lily Allen, Miley Cyrus, and Kylie Minogue to listen to while they drink their Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon. For those who prefer rock music 70% chose Merlot or Reisling to accompany the Stones, Nirvana, and Kings of Leon.
Gewurtztraminer is the least well known, an acquired taste, and is said to build in flavour like a classical crescendo. The wine company say that this Alsace region wine is the thinking person’s wine because it’s not so well known but has fantastic wines. The tunes to listen to as you drink this wine include The Marriage of Figaro and Air on a G String.
According to the survey hip-hop fans are the least fussy and will drink anything!
Much as I respect the work of the psychology team at Oxford University this does seem a bit pretentious. What happened to rock staples like champagne, whiskey, bourbon and beer!