Sammy Nickalls
Updated Jul 24, 2015 @ 10:07 am
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We all have different preferences in music. That becomes abundantly clear when your friend commandeers the radio on a road trip. But why is it that some prefer relaxed, acoustic vibes, while others prefer heavy metal? We’ve always chalked it up to a matter of personal tastes and left it at that, but new research suggests that our music preferences may actually be linked to how we think.

In a study entitled “Musical Preferences Are Linked To Cognitive Styles” published Wednesday in the online journal PLOS One, University of Cambridge researchers gathered information about over 4,000 participants using a Facebook application. Those who participated filled out personality surveys. They were then asked to listen to 50 different songs from all different genres and rate them. The researchers split the group into two based on their personalities — “empathizers” (empathetic people, as you’d probably expect) and “systemizers” (analytical people).

Researchers found a pattern: empathizers tended to gravitate toward emotionally driven, mellow music (think R&B, soul, soft rock, and adult contemporary), while systemizers leaned toward intense music with a greater sonic complexity (such as hard rock, heavy metal, and punk).

“Empathizers, who have a drive to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, preferred music. . . which featured low energy, negative emotions (such as sadness) and emotional depth,” lead author of the study David Greenberg told The Huffington Post. “On the other hand, systemizers, who have a drive to understand and analyze the patterns that underpin the world, preferred music. . . which not only features high energy and positive emotions.”

The reasoning behind this is because people tend to look for music they can identify with and that will reinforce their own current states, according to Greenberg. “People’s musical choices seem to be a mirror of who they are,” he told Huffington Post.

Researchers predict that they may be able to use this information to help increase empathy through music therapy — specifically treating those with autism, who tend to have low levels of empathy, by having them listen to more emotionally driven music. Researchers also believe this research can help music platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music determine more accurate musical preferences for their users.

“Not only can these findings be useful for clinicians in various therapeutic [settings],” Greenberg told Huffington Post, “but it can also be useful for the music industry and for music recommendation platforms such as Pandora and Apple Music.”

Of course, the world isn’t split into two perfectly defined personality types or two perfectly defined music preference camps, but this does make a ton of sense as to why certain people tend to gravitate toward certain kinds of music. Who knew that our Spotify playlists could say so much about who we are? And who knows — maybe Spotify will start making you take a quiz to find out if you’re an empathizer or a systemizer. THIS IS THE FUTURE. Either way, I’m only gonna let my empathizer friends commandeer the radio from now on.

[Image via Wikipedia]