In my life, music is everywhere. Growing up, I started piano at four, added clarinet at eight, and sang through it all. And I definitely wasn’t alone in my love of music. In my house, I remember my mom playing (and singing or humming along to) CDs and records, which ranged from the Who, to the Nutcracker soundtrack, to the ever-present Lord of the Rings soundtrack. She would also occasionally play classical pieces on the piano that she had learned when she was my age. My dad would often abandon the television in the living room in favor of playing short sections of the Beatles on his Guild acoustic guitar or Fender electric acoustic guitar. And my sister wasn’t left out of the mix either. Like me, she had started piano at a young age and then progressed on to the clarinet and eventually to the tenor saxophone. We both tried our hands at the guitar but didn’t end up picking it up quite as well as our dad had.
As my life has become increasingly more cluttered with work, practicing an instrument, which I already hated, is often put on the sidelines. Instead, I tend to listen to music using the electronic device that is consistently in my pocket through all hours of the day. I tend to start my day by turning off my alarm and replacing it with a song to convince myself to get out of bed. From that moment on, my headphones are my constant companions whether I’m walking to class or writing this blog.
I am not alone in my love of music. Music is important for emotion regulation, coping, creating our own image or identity, socialization, communication, and many other reasons. According to Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham (2007) and Chamorro-Premuzic, Swami, and Cermakova (2010), there are three main reasons that people choose to listen to music: emotional (using music to induce moods that change a person’s experience of an emotion), cognitive (analyzing music in an intellectual or rational way), and background (using music while doing another task including working, socializing, and studying).
According to these studies, the Big Five personality factors, intelligence, age, and highest education level can have an effect on the way in which we use music (Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham, 2007; Chamorro-Premuzic et al., 2010). The Big Five are is a model of five personality traits that are most widely accepted and used to test personality in academic psychology (Goldberg, 1992). The five traits are openness to experience, conscientiousness, neuroticism, extroversion, and agreeableness.
Both research groups found that individuals that were more open according to the big five tended to listen to music in a more rational and cognitive way (Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham, 2007; Chamorro-Premuzic et al., 2010). This finding supported Rentfrow and Gosling’s (2003) finding that open individuals were inclined towards more complex music including classical or jazz. In addition to this, Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham (2007) found that individuals with higher IQ and typical intellectual engagement scores also tended to listen to music rationally. They suggested that these particular individuals use music cognitively because they seek experiences that are intellectually stimulating and require “higher levels of cognitive processing” (Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham, 2007).
Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham (2007) and Chamorro-Premuzic, Swami, and Cermakova (2010) also both found evidence those individuals that scored higher in neuroticism use music for emotional regulation. Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham (2007) also found that introverted and unconscientious individuals use music for regulation of emotions. These individuals tend to focus on the content of the music as opposed to the structure and enjoy way the music influences their emotions.
Chamorro-Premuzic et al. (2010) also had a number of results regarding the demographics of their participants. In terms of gender, men tended to have greater cognitive musical uses, whereas women tended to use music for emotional regulation. This finding could be due to the fact that men report their use of music in cognitive ways to create a particular image (Chamorro-Premuzic et al., 2010). They also found that as age and education level independently increased, the use of music as background decreased. This could be because as we age music becomes more of a distraction and that lower education could result in jobs that are more inclined towards distraction.
Findings regarding extroverts so far have been inconclusive. According to Chamorro-Premuzic et al. (2010), extraverts tended to not listen to music for cognitive purposes. And in previous studies, extraversion was found to be associated with emotional uses of music in Spanish and Malaysian samples (Chamorro-Premuzic et al., 2010). In contrast, Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham (2007) wasn’t correlated with any of the uses of music.
While the research groups gave suggestive explanations, the exact reasons that these particular personalities and demographics tended to be associated with their specific uses of music. To answer exact reasons why these correlations exist, a lot of research needs to continue being done. But for now, we know that personality and individual demographics play a role in our uses of music.
- Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Furnham, A. (2007). Personality and music: Can traits explain how people use music in everyday life? British Journal of Psychology,98(2), 175-185. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
- Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Swami, V., & Cermakova, B. (2010). Individual differences in music consumption are predicted by uses of music and age rather than emotional intelligence, neuroticism, extraversion or openness. Psychology of Music,40(3), 285-300. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
- Goldberg, L. R. (1992). The development of markers for the Big-Five factor structure. Psychological Assessment,4(1), 26-42. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
- 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(6), 1236-1256. Retrieved April 4, 2016.