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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

What Does Taste in Music Tell Us About Others?

Quick Access:
Taste in Music

Can you tell anything about other people by their taste in music?


This I’ve heard it said that you can tell a lot about people from their music collections. Well, my good friend Dr. Jason Rentfrow’s published research(1) seems to bear that out. He kindly gave me permission to present some interesting findings from his article. You might wonder what this has to do with online dating. My answer is that lately music seems to be a useful tool in the compatibility game.

Consider, the popular music recommendation engine. The service reads the list of songs you play in iTunes and creates a profile used by to recommend other people and music you may like based on where you’ve been and what you’re listening to. Aside from and other music recommendation services like Pandora, there’s also the iTunes Signature Maker.

iTunes Signature Maker (iTSM) analyzes your music collection and creates a short audio signature to represent who you are and what you listen to. After it checks your system configuration and asks you a few simple questions, iTSM will spend a few minutes analyzing your collection and generating the audio signature.

The website for the service even states:

“Maybe you'll load your iTunes signature onto your iPod, e-mail it to some friends, share it in our signature gallery, or stick it on your home page. Maybe it will help you gauge your compatibility with your next blind date: "She seems nice enough, but her iTunes signature is just so atonal! Should I go with my heart or with my ear?”

Hmmm…I guess Steve Jobs at Apple Computer is joining the ranks of compatibility gurus like Drs. Glenn Wilson, Pepper Schwartz and yours truly! That may not be too far of the mark. A person’s music preferences speak to “real world psychology,” and can help you sharpen your person perception skills and learn how to “read between the lines.” After all, one of the most common questions people ask one another online and offline is “What kind of music do you like?”

There are intriguing links between music preferences and personality. As Dr. Rentfrow notes, the music that people listen to is related to their basic personality characteristics, values, self-esteem, intelligence level and even political orientation.

Dr. Rentfrow’s study was based on over 50,000 people worldwide, and it revealed that people who like certain styles of music also tend to like certain other styles of music. For instance, some people like:

» Classical, opera, jazz, blues, and folk

» Rock, punk, alternative, and heavy metal

» Country, religious, pop, soundtracks, and oldies

» Rap, electronic, funk, soul, and R&B

Many people like styles of music in at least two of these broad categories. What these categories really mean is that if people like one of the music genres within a broad category (e.g., rock), they also tend to like genres within the broader category as well (e.g., alternative).

At a deeper level of analysis, Dr. Rentfrow also found that people who like music with certain musical features have the following characteristics:

» Music that is complex and “brainy” tends to be preferred by people who are conscientious, hardworking, yet depressed and unhappy.

» Music that is very dream-like is preferred by people who are conscientious, depressed and open-minded.

» Music that is very upbeat and enthusiastic tends to be liked by people who are sociable, calm, emotionally stable and open to new ideas and experiences.

» Energetic music is liked mostly by people who are sensation seekers and extraverted.

» Music that’s very happy and optimistic is liked by people who are extraverted, friendly and caring.

» Angry and rebellious music is liked by people who are disagreeable, aggressive people.

» Music that is sad is liked by introverts and depressed people.

» Highly emotional music is liked by unconventional people who are also depressed and lonely.

» Music with arrogant, bragging lyrics is popular among people who are emotionally stable and have narrow interests.

» Reflective music is liked by people who are unconventional and unhappy.

» Fast music is liked by extraverts and thrill seekers.

» People who like music with lots of singing tend to be extraverted and friendly.

Interestingly, people untrained in the social sciences or the Arts are actually able to form reasonably accurate impressions of what people are like based solely on their music preferences! There are two types of cues that people use to form these impressions…

1) Music stereotypes -- people tend to use stereotypes about what people who listen to certain styles of music are like to form impressions of others.

2) Musical cues -- people use specific “clues” in the music to infer personality, such as the amount of singing, tempo and emotional valence.

With this background in mind, keep in mind how people perceive your personality from the musical tastes you give in your online dating profile or during your online conversations. Likewise, referring to certain musical genres or citing lyrics from specific songs can be a creative and influential way to make a specific impression on others.


1 Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2003). The do re mi’s of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1236-1256.

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