By: Tarisa Tan (Bugle Team)

Have you ever listened to a song so good that you had to stop whatever you were doing and pay your undivided attention to the lyrics or general rhythm? Maybe you even felt goosebumps as you tried to get your groove on. It’s a wonder how music has that effect on us. It’s been the case at both individual and group levels. From Beatlemania to Beliebers, music clearly has the power to unite people. They’ve brought people together over a mutual love for music.

So what influences our taste in music? A study by Greenberg et al (2015) investigated personality differences and its effect on preferences in music. The study aimed to contrast empathic traits from systematic mannerisms, which measures an individual’s analytical and organization skills. In the study, all participants were initially required to take Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient-Revised (SQR) tests. This was done to view individual differences in their personalities. In the study, it was discovered that participants who were more empathetic (Type E), generally preferred mellow genres such as soft rock, R&B and soul. It was thought that Type E individuals preferred music with emotional depth and low arousal. On the other hand, systematic participants (Type S) showed a preference for intense genres, some of which are heavy metal, hard rock and punk. This signals that Type S individuals take more of a liking to music with cerebral depth, meaning that they enjoyed music that heavily engages the mind with its melodies. However, as empathetic and systematic traits are found to be heritable, it can be argued that biology (behavioural genetics) may not be the only influence in music preferences.

While the findings from Greenberg et al’s (2015) study are telling, it really only looks at one aspect of an individual’s personality. It fails to take into consideration the complexity of an individual’s personality since there are so many other personality traits that essentially contribute to one’s individuality and potentially their taste in music.

Marisuz Kozak, director of Undergraduate Music Theory at Columbia, argues that your upbringing has a lot to do with it. According to him, the music that you’re exposed to during your younger years help create specific mental patterns of the melodies you once heard. These melodies are then retained in your mind, and if a song you listen to later on consists of a similar melody, you’re more likely to love it. From a personal standpoint, I can stand by this. I grew up listening to alternative tunes during car rides with my dad. To best describe it, I found the melodies played to be soothingly hypnotising, and I still do. To this day, I tend to gravitate to the likes of calming genres.

With that being said, alternative music does not speak to me at all times. When I’m looking for a pick-me-up, I’d definitely pick an upbeat pop song over a slow tempo. This just goes to show that your mood may also impact your opinion on certain types of music.

Music has an incredible range. From hip hop to instrumental classics, music has so much to offer. When it comes to determining musical taste, it’s a mix between genetics, moods and general exposure to various kinds of music. So go on, it’s time to put on your favourite track, and simply enjoy it.


alexialafata. “Is This Your Song? The Science Behind What Determines Your Taste In Music.” Elite Daily, July 7, 2014.

Greenberg, David M., Simon Baron-Cohen, David J. Stillwell, Michal Kosinski, and Peter J. Rentfrow. “Musical Preferences Are Linked to Cognitive Styles.” PLOS ONE 10, no. 7 (July 22, 2015): e0131151. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131151.

McKenna, Sabina. “What Determines People’s Taste in Music?” Hopes&Fears, December 16, 2015.
“The Way You Think Influences Your Musical Tastes.” Medical Daily, July 27, 2015.