Compile your iTunes library with care

Cambridge, UK – People are quick to jump to conclusions about each other on the basis of their musical taste, research from the University of Cambridge suggests.

Researchers found that we make the same assumptions about people’s personalities, values, social class and even ethnicity, based on their musical preferences.

Rock fans, for instance, are held to be rebellious and artistic, but emotionally unstable. Classical music-lovers, on the other hand, are seen as personable and intellectual, but unattractive and a bit boring.

“It is now common practice to list your favourite bands on sites like MySpace or Facebook,” said Dr Jason Rentfrow. “This research shows that in doing so, many of us are also making clear public statements of who we are and how we should be perceived, whether we are conscious of that or not.”

Dr Rentfrow asked subjects to consider six broad genres – rock, pop, electronica, rap, classical and jazz. They were asked to rate fans of each genre according to extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.

Next, they were asked to rate fans’ personal qualities, such as intelligence, physical attractiveness and athleticism, along with 18 things that fans might value, such as “a comfortable life”, “true friendship” and “national security”. Finally, subjects assessed the likelihood that fans might come from each of 16 UK ethnicities and five degrees of social class.

The researchers found that people agreed particularly strongly about the types of people who like classical music, rock and rap.

Jazz fans, for example, were viewed as friendly, emotionally stable people with a limited sense of responsibility. Rap fans were viewed as more hostile, but energetic and athletic. Classical music was linked to white, upper-class people and rap to black or mixed race people from lower class backgrounds.

The work forms the subject of a short film, available here. An analysis also appears in Group Processes And Intergroup Relations.