Personality is the most often-discussed area of psychology and neuroscience in the modern era – the ideas of whether or not our personality is inherent and fixed or whether or not it changes and adapts over time thanks to social and environmental factors. Fortunately, new research has indicated that there might be a link between a musical aptitude and personality – namely that more adventurous and curious individuals are more likely to be musically gifted.

The Research

The research, conducted at the University of Cambridge, has shown that according to the tenements of pre-existing personality theory, namely the ‘Big Five’ pillars of personality, people who exhibit higher levels in ‘openness to experience’ are more likely to have musical ability or are musically talented.

The study, present within the current month’s ‘Journal of Research in Personality, explored how David Greenberg, a PhD student at Cambridge and the lead researcher of this study, and his team found a link between openness to experience and musical ability – not only of those who already played musical instruments but those who had no previous experience and to whom the ability was predicted.

The Study

Participants within the study were tested on their musical abilities, such as the abilities to recall melodies and to perceive rhythms, with both musicians and non-musicians included within the test population. They were then given the questionnaire that examines for the ‘Big Five’ personality traits.

The Big Five personality traits were aspects of human personality channeled into a questionnaire method of assessing personality developed by researchers from the 1960s to the 1980s. The five traits – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (or OCEAN for short) – have stood as a major template for personality theory for decades.

“We had expected to see that openness predicted musical ability for those who played a musical instrument, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that openness also predicted musical ability for those who had no musical experience at all,” Greenberg, a PhD candidate in psychology at the University of Cambridge, informed The Huffington Post in a recent article.

The Results

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that musical ability was most strongly linked to ‘openness to experience’ – somewhat logical given that musicians’ abilities often rely on artistic experience, spontaneity, and creative expression – and that even the kind of music that people listen to and enjoy has ramifications on their personality.

Studies running parallel to this research have found that the personality trait of ‘openness’ is linked to ‘sad’ music (music with a negative or melancholic mood or feeling) and in particular to the genres of classical music and jazz.

Furthermore, individuals who enjoy listening to ‘sad’ music tended to score highest on the traits of agreeableness, empathy, and openness in personality tests similar to the ones conducted in Greenberg, et. al’s study; this is according to the work of Dr David Huron, a music cognition professor at Ohio State University.

“Some people think that our musical behaviors are random, but recent research is showing that our daily musical experiences are tied to our personality and even other factors such as our thinking styles,” Greenberg commented. “For example, another recent study this past summer from our team showed that people’s empathy and systematizing levels were linked to their musical preferences.”

The Implications

The implications of the research are potentially global and interesting to boot; music programs at colleges and universities could implement personality tests as part of the interview process in order to best fit students to appropriate modules and programs. It could even have wider-reaching ramifications, developing the complex relationship between music and psychology as experts continue to investigate and discover how the brain reacts to and creates music.

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