Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: Personality Type and Musical Preference

         Jourdain’s, Music, the Brain and Ecstasy, was a very informative and thought provoking book. Being a musician, and knowing little about the brain and it’s functions, this book did a great job of describing how the brain receives and processes sound, and therefore music, and the ways in which it affects us in everyday-life. Jourdain touched on the subject of music preference primarily in chapter 8 from pages 259-264, and describes the different possibilities of musical preference as the following: “a biological predilection” (259); “our individual musical personalities” (259); “social symbolism” (262); “social solidarity” (263); musical preference “imprint” (263); and “habit” (264). The one that particularly interests me is the idea of “musical personalities”. Although Jourdain’s definition of “musical personalities” may have more to do with simply our musical preferences, it made me think of individual’s actual personality types. Does an individual’s personality type correlate to their musical preferences?  Does an extroverted personality tend to prefer certain styles of music, where introverts prefer others? I know that our preferences for anything, including music, are a product of a life-long experiences and social surroundings, but could our innate preferences have anything to do with the way we are wired; our personalities? Later in the book, Jourdain talks about mood and music’s affect on that, but doesn’t go further into this idea of personality types and musical preference.
            When considering the idea of correlation between personality types and music, I was reminded of a past experience with personality testing. While doing my masters degree we did a few sessions on the Myers-Briggs personality test, and the instructor talked to us about how a large percentage of musicians are ENFP (extravert, intuitive, feeler, perceive), which is what category I happen to fall into, and subsequently so did a large percentage of the class. Obviously personality plays into types of career choices we make, but then it must also play heavily into the choices we make, and ultimately our preferences in terms of musical selections. I am not saying that Myers-Briggs assessment is the only way to define personality types, simply a way to identify differences in personalities and what sparked my thoughts of researching this possible correlation.
            In speaking about musical preference, Jourdain states, “Before all else, people use music for mood enhancement. Psychologists have long known that different personality types are attracted to different kinds of drugs, legal and illegal”. He then goes on to briefly connect this to music saying how each genre relates to different actions, for example: “hard rock as the frenzied rush of cocaine” (261). If personality types are attracted to different types of drugs, then what about genres of music? Jourdain really doesn’t discuss this question at all. In chapter 10, Jourdain speaks about the origins of music and how music is seen as optional in today’s society, but that this was not always the case. He states that our innate need for music is seen throughout history and cross-culturally indicating, “music is something that humans come by fairly easily” (305). If music is something that seems to be a part of our DNA as humans, as is our personality, is there any association between these two things?

            Looking specifically at the brain, we know that like music, the personality has links to many different areas of the brain, but it is primarily stored in the frontal lobe. As Jourdain says, “in all aspects of music perception, several parts of the brain are at work” (84). We know that the right side of the brain dominates in tonal and melodic perception (in most cases), and that the temporal lobe with the auditory cortex is involved in our perception of tone as well, on both sides of the brain. As I was thinking about this, I figured that other people have already wondered this, so I took a look through recent literature on this subject. The most valuable resource I found was an article that was published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2005 called “Personality and Music Preferences: The Influence of Personality Traits on Preferences Regarding Musical Elements”. This article was about a study done by PHD student Kopacz Malgorzata in Poland, in order to draw some conclusions about correlations, if any, between personality types/traits and musical preferences. Malgorzata defines musical preference as “the act of choosing, esteeming, or giving advantage to one thing over another through a verbal statement, rating scale response, or choice made from two or more alternatives" (Malgorzata, 217). This question of individual preference and personality goes back to discoveries made by psychologist Hans Eysenck, who was instrumental in the developing research in the areas of personality and intelligence, with his categories of personality dimensions: extroversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism(1958) (Malgorzata, 217).

            The research in the article I read is based on previous work done by James McKeen Cattell, a prominent American psychologist of the early 1900’s whose focus was on studying the psychology of individual differences. In this study, a sample group of 145 students were chosen and all completed the same personality trait test followed by a musical preference questionnaire that was made specifically for this study, and finally each participant was asked to indicate their favorite piece of music. After compiling all of the results and analyzing the musical elements of the most preferred pieces of music, the study showed that some personality traits such as liveliness, social boldness, and extroversion (among others), all had a direct influence on preferences of musical elements. Reading through the study, there were many different musical elements discussed including timbre, rhythmic elements, melodic contour, and harmonic elements. One of the interesting findings was that individual’s who were extroverts generally chose music with a higher number of melodic themes as opposed to introverts. Also, those individuals with a greater sense of boldness and adventure also liked a higher number of melodic themes, as well as faster tempos and irregular rhythms, while the individuals with tendencies towards being shy and socially timid liked a smaller number of melodic themes, slower tempos, and regular rhythms. 

           Regarding this area of study, it would also be interesting to see how the parts of our brain that are in command of our personality engage, if they do at all, when one is involved in music or listening to music. Ultimately music is an emotional and creative expression, and does involve our very beings and personalities to take part in that experience, but how does that experience really look on the inside of the brain? Although this is a short review of the question of correlation between personality and musical preference, it is definitely an interesting subject to think about. The work of individuals in the area of music psychology and therapy are continuing to make further advances in this area of study, which is very interesting. It makes me wonder if my preferences and 'choices' in music are really my own, or are at least in part predetermined by my personality.

Works Cited:

Jourdain, Robert. Music, the Brain, and Ecstacy. HarperCollins, United States. 1997. 

Malgorzata, Kopacz. “Personality and Music Preferences: The Influence of Personality”. Journal of Music Therapy. 42/3 (Fall 2005):216-239.

1 comment:

Pamela Lum said...

Hi Tina,

You have selected an interesting topic on personality and music. You mention that a large percentage of musicians are extravert, intuitive, feeler and perceive. As musicians, we tend to have a common musical interest. However, if there are people with multiple interests, does that mean their musical tastes do not overlap? Our external environment shapes our personalities and shapes our brain. This topic makes me wonder about my own personal taste in music and whether that changes due to my musical training or affected by my personality.