Your Musical Tastes Reveal Your Life Chords
Genre of choice tells a lot about attitudes, behaviors, survey finds
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 20 , 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Madonna, Mozart or Eminem? Your preference in music could predict the patterns of your life, including your sexual activity, drug use, and even your political outlook, a new British survey contends.
And it's not as predictable as you'd think. The survey of 2,500 people found, for example, that opera fans were as likely as other music lovers to try hallucinogenic drugs, and that many hip-hop fans had somewhat conservative views on a wide range of issues.
While other studies of musical taste have focused on broad demographics, "this research, as far as I am aware, is the first time that people have looked at these really specific aspects of people's day-to-day lives," said study author Adrian North, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester.
The findings are scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychology of Music.
Recent changes in technology, such as the iPod and other devices using downloaded music, have made personal musical selection even easier.
"People are selecting their own music to a much greater extent than they have been able to do in the past," said Terry Pettijohn, an expert on music and human behavior and an associate professor of psychology at Mercyhurst College, in Erie, Pa.
But what can your music of choice tell about the rest of the choices you make in life?
In his study, North had 2,500 Britons state their favorite musical genre and then fill out a detailed questionnaire on topics such as income, education, job status, living arrangements, sexual activity, political/moral outlook, leisure pursuits and media preferences.
Fans of hip-hop and dance music were perhaps the "wildest" group surveyed, North said. More than 37 percent of hip-hop aficionados and nearly 29 percent of dance music fans had had more than one sexual partner over the past five years, compared to just 1.5 percent of country music lovers. More than half of hip-hop and dance-music fans said they had committed a criminal act at least once in their lifetime, and they were also much more likely to have tried illicit drugs than fans of other musical genres.
But there was one surprise.
"We have the idea that fans of hip-hop, rap and dance music are liberal types," North said. "But in many respects we found they had beliefs that were relatively right-wing."
For example, compared to people favoring other musical styles, fans of hip-hop and dance were least likely to support recycling or alternative sources of energy, and least likely to support the use of taxation to expand public services.
Pettijohn said this finding may suggest a cultural difference between the United Kingdom and the United States, since an earlier U.S.-based study of music and psychology found that most American hip-hop fans were, in fact, social liberals.
And he wondered if the relative youth of those who love hip-hop and/or dance music is the major reason behind their risk-taking behaviors.
"I'd like to see something that would show that people who like rap, hip-hop and dance music continue to like it in their 40s, 50s and 60s," he said.
Not all "risk takers" did so to the rhymes of 50 Cent, however. A large number were listening to Pavarotti or Bach, the survey showed.
"For example, looking at drug usage, a full 12.3 percent of opera fans said they had tried 'magic mushrooms,'" North said. "That number wasn't too different for fans of other types of music."
One out of every four classical and opera lovers also said they had at least tried marijuana. They were also pretty terrible drivers: Almost half (45 percent) had recently incurred some sort of traffic penalty, compared to 23 percent of people who listed "musicals" as their favorite music category.
Still, in other ways, classical music fans fit the stereotype -- compared to pop-music fans, they tended to be better-educated and make more money, were more likely to pay off their credit card bills each month, avoided tabloid newspapers, and more often preferred drinking wine to other types of alcohol.
North agreed with Pettijohn that responses to the survey might vary between the United Kingdom and the United States. That's why he has launched an online survey aimed at collecting data on music and lifestyle from people around the world (www.musicaltastetest.com).
"I hope to amass at least 10,000 responses, to get a better grasp of trends between countries," he said.
It's North's belief that music does not cause lifestyle changes, per se.
"Music answers a particular need," he said, "and certain lifestyle choices make it more likely that people will find themselves in social situations that then link them to musical preferences." For example, young people with money may spend it dancing in nightclubs, which can cause them to prefer dance music -- and experiment with the illicit drugs that are so often available at these venues.
None of that means that dance music actually encourages people to take drugs, North said. "It's not a case of factor A causing factor B," he added.
And while the research shows that most people form their lifetime musical preferences between the ages of 16 and 24, none of that is carved in stone, North added.
"Your taste can become more sophisticated as you get older," he said, "mainly because your brain has heard more music and you are able to process more complicated stuff."
"Still, you're not likely to shift from liking Britney Spears to Beethoven," he added.
For more on the psychology of musical taste, head to the American Psychological Association.