Your taste in music could offer an insight into the way your brain works, according to researchers from Cambridge University.

Their study, published on PLOS One, found that mellow music like R&B, soft rock and folk was the choice of participants who scored highly for empathy, while those who were good at “systemising”, or analysing patterns, preferred punk, heavy metal and more complex music like avant-garde jazz.

The researchers recruited 4,000 participants and put them through a series of different tests to assess whether they were “empathisers” or “systemisers”, for example by asking them if they were interested in how car engines are constructed, or if they were good at guessing how people were feeling.

They then asked the participants to rate 50 short pieces of music in 26 different styles, and discovered that empathisers tended to prefer mellow R&B and soft rock and “unpretentious” music like country and folk, with songs like Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Norah Jones’ ‘Come Away With Me’ among the favourites. Those who scored high on empathy also preferred negative emotions or emotional depth in the lyrics.

The systemisers favoured “intense” music, but disliked mellow and unpretentious styles, with their top tracks including like ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica.

Doctoral student David Greenberg, who led the team, said: “Although people’s music choices fluctuate over time, we’ve discovered a person’s empathy levels and thinking style predicts what kind of music they like.

“In fact, their cognitive style – whether they’re strong on empathy or strong on systems – can be a better predictor of what music they like than their personality.”

The idea behind the test was to work out how people make snap decisions about the songs they love or hate. The researchers believe their findings could be used within the industry, for example by streaming services to improve their playlists.

Greenberg said: “A lot of money is put into algorithms to choose what music you may want to listen to, for example on Spotify and Apple Music. By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine-tune their music recommendations to an individual.”

Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University, added: “The research may help us understand those at the extremes, such as people with autism, who are strong systemisers.” [via BBC, Cambridge News]



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