Can the music you listen to determine how clever you are?

Matthew Champion@matthewchampion
Monday 27 October 2014 12:50

Psychological studies have previously attempted to discover what a person's musical taste reveals about their personality and intellect.

In 2003, psychologists Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling said most people's musical preferences fell into one of four categories: reflective and complex; upbeat and conventional; energetic and rhythmic; and intense and rebellious.

By asking thousands of students at the University of Texas about what music they liked, they concluded that extraverts tend to seek out songs laden with bass, while people who enjoy listening to jazz and classical music tend to be more creative and have higher IQs.

So far, so expected, you might think.

A larger study at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University asked 36,000 people to rate more than 100 musical styles and talk about aspects of their personality.

Here, researchers found that people who liked pop music tended to be honest but lacked creativity; rap fans had high self-esteem; people who listened to heavy metal were found to be gentle but lacked confidence; indie music fans were introverted and not particularly hard working; while people who liked jazz and classical music were found to be highly intelligent and full of self-confidence respectively.

Software writer Virgil Griffith might be best known for developing WikiScanner, which tracked edits on Wikipedia, but back in 2009 he also did a bit of digging into what a person's favourite music can tell us about their intellect.

He plotted the most liked acts and genres on Facebook by students of different US colleges against those colleges' SAT scores (entrance exams).

In this quite unscientific way he uncovered a "correlation between musical tastes and dumbitude (smartitude too)!".

Radiohead, Beethoven and Bob Dylan fans are among the smartest college students, with people who listen to Beyonce and gospel music at the other end of the spectrum.

Comfortably middle ground meanwhile are acts such as Coldplay, Maroon 5 and Snow Patrol.

In the below chart, acts associated with higher SAT scores can be found further to the right.

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