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Are You More Of An ‘Empathiser’ or ‘Systemiser’? Your Music Playlist May Reflect Your Brain Type

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Are You More Of An ‘Empathiser’ or ‘Systemiser’? Your Music Playlist May Reflect Your Brain Type

While you might think that the collection of tunes rocking around on your mp3 player or phone might just be a random assortment of your favorite songs, it turns out that you could secretly be displaying your true personality for all to see. New research published has indicated that some insight into your personality can be found by examining just what you have on your personal music playlists.

Some songs are linked with being higher in empathy and empathetic personality types, while others have indicated a more logical mental template.

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Although psychologists have long suspected a link between the kind of music that we enjoy and choose to surround ourselves with, and our personality traits, new research has expanded upon this; it has even identified certain branches of music as being more closely associated with particular “brain types”. The psychological research journal PLOS ONE has announced new research that indicates that your choices in music can help identify how your brain processes information, and therefore how you respond and react to new situations.

According to lead researcher and author David Greenberg, peoples’ cognitive styles and their personalities can help predict the kind of music they like, with Greenberg’s research breaking people down roughly into two categories. The Oxford University-based team who conducted the research spoke to 4,500 participants through apps on Facebook and Amazon (Facebook’s MyPersonality and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk applications). Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires, displaying the two types: ’empathisers’ who are more emotional, caring, and sympathetic, and ‘systemisers’, who are more logical, analytical, and objective.

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Empathisers tended to favor songs low on arousal (gentle, relaxing, reflective), with emotional depth in their lyrics and themes. This meant a tendency towards soft rock, easy listening, and adult contemporary music. Systemisers on the other hand prefer more high-energy music, such as punk, heavy metal, or hard rock music, with thrilling or strong beats.

This doesn’t mean that systemisers can’t be empathetic. People are more likely to generally exist on a spectrum, rather than to neatly fit into these two categories exactly; but, the idea of our musical preferences leading to psychological insight is intriguing to say the least. So, while you might think that your exclusive taste in Top 40 pop music might just be the way you like your tunes- (pop music has, by the way, been linked to extroversion and extrovert traits in test subjects)- it can actually be a useful insight into the way your brain works and how you process daily life.

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If you’re interested in which songs made the list for both categories, Greenberg et. al, listed some of their choices:

Songs associated with empathy

  • Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
  • Come Away With Me – Norah Jones
  • All of Me – Billie Holiday
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen

Songs associated with systemizing

  • Concerto in C – Antonio Vivaldi
  • Etude Opus 65 No 3 — Alexander Scriabin
  • God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols
  • Enter the Sandman – Metallica

There are even some ideas for how this information can be applied. For example, imagine training yourself to be more empathetic and kinder person, by simply listening to some Jeff Buckley.

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If you’re interested in finding out where you lie on the spectrum, look over your recent musical history and ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • When you listen to music, do you often find yourself listening to the lyrics?
  • Do you specifically listen to music for the lyrical content and themes?
  • When watching charity advertisements on TV, do you often find yourself moved by them?

if you answered ‘yes’ to all three of the questions above, then you might just be leaning more towards the ’empathiser’ camp, while those who didn’t may find themselves more aligned with ‘systemisers’.

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Psychological research into music is a rapidly developing area, and we can expect to see further developments as our relationships with the songs we love and our brains continues to be explored in depth.

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Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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