Your Playlist Can Predict Your Personality

New study suggests music choices may provide a window into how your mind works

Jul 22, 2015 at 2:44 PM ET

Your playlist says a lot about your personality, according to a new study published in PLoS. “This line of research highlights how music is a mirror of the self,” said Dr Jason Rentfrow, coauthor on the study, in a prepared statement. “Music is an expression of who we are emotionally, socially, and cognitively.”

Researchers polled 4,000 participants using the myPersonality Facebook app, and sorted them into broad groups of “empathizers” (people who respond strongly to emotions) and “systemizers” (people who respond strongly to rules and patterns). When people had selected their grouping, they were hit with a surprising follow-up question—what’s your favorite song?

Based on the results, the researchers found that so-called “empathizers” tend to prefer mellow, unpretentious music such as R&B, country and Latin music. Meanwhile “systemizers” prefer heavy metal, punk and complex jazz pieces. Furthermore, emotionally-oriented people tend to enjoy low-energy, emotional music while systematic, analytical thinkers prefer high-energy, complex music.

For empathizers, songs like Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, Norah Jones’s Come Away With Me, Billie Holliday’s All Of Me and Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love topped the list. Systemizers invariably preferred more complex, faster-paced pieces including Concerto in C (Antonio Vivaldi), Etude Opus 65 No 3 (Alexander Scriabin), God Save The Queen (The Sex Pistols) and Enter Sandman (Metallica).

The study is being hailed a victory for interdisciplinary science, as well as a potential avenue for future research into medical conditions characterized by lack of empathy or over-systemizing. “It took a talented PhD student and musician to even think to pose this question,” Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, coauthor on the study and famous cousin of Borat, said in a prepared statement. “The research may help us understand those at the extremes, such as people with autism, who are strong systemizers.”