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
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
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
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,"
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
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,"
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.