Apr 05 2010


Does the music we listen to affect who we are?

Posted at 9:55 am under Emotions, Human Sciences, Language, Reasoning


I, among many others can say being a teenager isn’t easy. As I reflect on my past experiences I’ve come to realize that the music I listened to seemed to reveal how I saw myself as a person during that specific time.  Especially in this day and age, it is rare that we don’t come across young adults with their earphones in their ear. Thus, it came no surprise to me when I discovered that an entire branch in psychology was geared toward music. It seemed logical to me that music impacts people. Since, music consists of sounds and many times language which are two factors alone that heavily influence people. Me, being a person heavily reliant on my ipod, researched this branch of psychology and in turn it caused me to question whether music affects our personality.  In order to answer this question, I found key ingredients that tend to influence people’s perspectives. This includes music’s effect on behavior, emotion, intelligence, and pain reduction.


Constant music listeners like myself might be surprised to discover that research suggests that our music taste comes from our genes. According to researchers at the Harvard Medical School a baby’s brain is wired for music while still in the womb.  At the age of 4 months, discordant notes at the end of a melody can make them squirm and turn away. If they like a lullaby, well, who can’t fail to appreciate a baby’s coo.


However, this research is not concrete evidence that our genes shape our music taste.  Other theories focus on music’s long term effect on the brain. In short, evidence suggests that long-term musical involvement causes cognitive rewards and boosts social adjustment. Music exercises the brain. ( Norman Weinberger, University of California)

Why does music provoke such strong emotional responses?

1-1-8-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 “There is something about music that evolves over time, as do emotions. When we hear the song we re-live the emotional sequence that happened when we first heard it,” says Professor John Sloboda of  Keele University and author of Music and Emotion. According to the Psychology Press , Music is a complex acoustic and temporal structure that induces a large variety of emotional responses in listeners.The nature of emotions created by music has been a matter of much debate. Preliminary practical investigations have demonstrated that basic emotions can be recognized in and created by musical stimuli in humans.

070507Tidig musik

Ongoing research has been conducted concerning music’s correlation to human intelligence. A very popular study dealt with the Mozart Effect.  The Mozart Effect is a set of research results that indicate that listening to Mozart’s music may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks known as spatial temporal reasoning. Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993) investigated the effect of listening to music by Mozart on spatial reasoning . They gave research participants one of three standard tests of abstract spatial reasoning after they had experienced each of three listening conditions: a sonata by Mozart, repetitive relaxation music, and silence. The authors found that the mean standard age scores converted into IQ scores were 8 to 9 points higher after the participants had listened to the music. Rauscher et al. show that the enhancing effect of the music condition is only temporary. This concludes that music doesn’t directly affect a person’s intelligence.


It is not uncommon to hear the  term, “Music Therapy.” However, not many people have given much thought as to how music can be therapeutic. According to a paper in the latest UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing, listening to music can reduce chronic pain by up to 21 per cent and depression by up to 25 per cent. Sandra L Siedlecki from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation conducted a study depicting the effect of music on power, pain, depression and disability.  The conclusion of this particular study noted that the patients that were exposed to music reported that their pain had fallen by between 12 and 21 per cent, when measured by two different pain measurement scales. The control group reported that pain increased between one and two per cent.

I’m aware that not everyone listens to as much music as I do and thus it may be too hasty to conclude that music molds everyone’s personality.  Time must be taken out to consider the other perspective. That is, that our personality and the culture that we are brought up in influences our individual music taste. Whether culture or personality, one thing is clear, and that is that music is universal amongst humans; it may be used to express one’s mood, it may influence one’s mood, but most of all it is enjoyed by all.

- Aileen Carpenter

Word Count: 568


Keshen, Alex. ” Does Music Affect Teens?.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 4 Apr 2010. <http://behavioural-psychology.suite101.com/article.cfm/is_music_for_more_than_your_ears>.

Cromie, William. “Music on the brain.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 4 Apr 2010. <Music on the brain>.

“How Does Music Impact Our Emotions?.” (1999): n. pag. Web. 4 Apr 2010. <http://www.chordpiano.com/articles-chord-piano/music-emotions-4.htm>.

“Human Intelligence:Mozart Effect.”(2008)n.pag.Web.4Apr2010 http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/mozarteffect2.shtml

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Does the music we listen to affect who we are?”

  1.   cajoon 14 Apr 2010 at 1:22 pm 1

    Worth watching is the TED talk given by Robert Gupta, a violinist with the LA Philharmonic. He talks about a violin lesson he once gave to a brilliant, schizophrenic musician and how learned that music through it connection with our emotions helps us identify reality.

  2.   CharlotteMon 22 Apr 2010 at 8:58 pm 2

    Hello Aileen.
    Well, first off I very much enjoyed your post; it was very interesting especially because I too am quite passionate about music.
    So the basic question you present in this post is whether music affects personality and you clearly state this in the beginning. Then you progress with evidence as to why you believe it does. I think the evidence you have provided is very straightforward and is given in great clarity which persuades me to believe what you believe (and, as a side note I do think music affects personality). I also very much appreciate how you give evidence with a counter claim. This dilutes the bias usually present in a post like this and allows me to trust what you say even more as you trust us enough to give us both the “pros” and “cons” of what you’re writing about.
    However, I have some things to add. Firstly, one reason I agree is out of personal experience. This also has a great deal to do with your section titled, “Why does music provoke such strong emotional responses?” When I’m in a “not so happy” mood, and I listen to a song which is rapid and very “light” then I’m immediately entranced by it and thus I also end up feeling lighter and in a sense, much happier than before. This also occurs when I start off feeling happy, but then when I listen closely to a slow song in which the performer sings about something which was lost which ended I then involuntarily take the performer’s emotions as my own and hence I become very sad.
    So with this I can make a very general hypothesis which indicates the following: that if my choice of songs were sad and slow ones and if that was all I listened to, these songs may have caused me to be a sad person. Or if the majority of music on my IPod was happy and upbeat, and if that was what I listened to all the time, that may have caused me to be happy and upbeat. But this is merely a theory with no true evidence to back it up, just my personal experience. Although it is naught but a generalization, I believe you especially, Aileen, can sympathize with me because you mentioned you too are very attached to your music.
    And one more thing to consider. Not everyone has the same emotional range, and not everyone is as easily affected by different factors. This creates a problem when wanting to affect the change in someone when they listen to different types of music. You touched up on this in your post when you mention at the end how not everyone listens to music as often at you, so good job.
    Now what I’m trying to convey is that I’m very grateful you posted about this, especially because I too ponder about such things. Also, after this post I’m sure I’ll pay much more attention to myself and to others and their behaviours whenever I or they are listening to music. I have mentioned many strengths of your argument, but there is one thing which I recommend improvement on, that you include a more personal example. I don’t really see a clear one present, and such an example would help me understand more why you believe what you do believe. Other than that, a great piece of work.

  3.   Ashleyon 28 Apr 2010 at 12:41 am 3

    Your blog post was very interesting and I enjoyed reading it. However, I can’t help noticing that your post is a lot more like a chemistry post or a psychology post. I don’t really feel that you explored the TOK perspectives of this subject.
    For example, you mentioned the point of view that music shapes a person’s personality. You go on to support (with a lot of evidence!) that a person’s personality can be molded by the kind of music they listen to. However, have you considered that maybe it is because of that person’s particular personality, therefore he or she chooses to listen to a certain genre of music? I completely agree that one song can bring back past memories and evoke a certain emotion. It is also true, however, that when a person is happy, he or she tends to listen to happy music. Likewise, if a person is sad, he or she will listen to sad music. I know I definitely do that. Also, if you want to think of it from the other side, if a person is sad, he or she might listen to happy music to cheer themselves up.

    Your thoughts on music improving people’s intelligence is very fascinating. I would like to think that if I listen to Mozart, I can do better on my tests. However, I don’t think that you have explored the TOK aspect of this topic far enough. After you stated the experiment, you should have mentioned something about how the experiment could have been biased or how this could have been a case of “finding the results you want”. I say this because I notice you didn’t comment on the reliability of the experiments themselves, but rather assumed that they were conducted fairly and accurately.

    That being said, I do think that this blog post is very interesting. The topic is something that all of us hope could be true. :) I really think you should copy and paste it for chemistry, how efficient!

  4.   Jessica H.on 04 May 2010 at 7:44 pm 4

    I’m super glad someone decided to make a post about music!

    As an avid music listener and probably borderline junkie in that department, I definitely understand the perspective through which you view the effects of music on yourself and on human personality. I found it very interesting how you were able to find studies which covered the effects of music on large sample, from infants through to adults, as it strengthens the argument that music has a strong effect on all humans, not just you and me as adolescents. However, although you did acknowledge the fact that this evidence towards music shaping personality is far from conclusive, I was curious to see if there was any evidence to counter your claim.

    My personal opinion on the matter is that music does not necessarily shape our personalities, but is rather a reflection of traits already existent in our characters. Ashley mentioned this in her reply above, saying that “maybe it is because of that person’s particular personality, therefore he or she chooses to listen to a certain genre of music”. Although I would hardly like to be judged by the music I listen to, I feel like music is a way for individuals to express themselves, and therefore it is more a representation of our personalities as opposed to the force which shapes our personalities. Again, however, this is just my personal opinion, and I definitely do not expect you to just take my word for it, so I found some material relevant to my claim.

    Earlier in the year, I was looking into this very topic as a potential EE topic (I’m writing my EE in psychology), and I found some very interesting studies which further both my point of view but also yours. I am not going to talk about all of them, however feel free to come find me if you’re interested in the links for the rest! :) One of the studies, conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, was about personality correlates to musical preferences. They found characteristics shared among individuals who had similar music preferences. The study suggests a variety of reasons for why these correlations may exist, for example, because individuals use music as a coping mechanism or because the content of different styles of music differ therefore different people may relate better to one specific genre, however no final answer is given on the matter. They do bring up a point similar to my own views in saying that personality appears to dictate preferences, not the other way around, however this is merely one interpretation. Since correlation does not necessarily mean causation, it could go either way, with music shaping personality or personality dictating preference, which means that the study, interestingly enough, is capable of supporting both viewpoints.

    Something else which interested me was whether or not musicians had an opinion on this matter. It seems that we’re more likely to trust “knowledge” when it comes in the form of a scientific study with fancy math and statistics performed on it, but this issue could be examined through a completely different lens; as art instead of human science. So what about the people who create the music? I know for many musicians, including myself although I may not be a very accomplished one, music is a means of release and expression. In this case then, do the musicians define the music or does the music shape the musician? I think that this is an important question to ask because so many artists in today’s day and age receive criticisms for having been “changed” by the industry or the producer and are no longer “true to themselves”. I know that I have made such claims in the past, but how valid are these claims of “change”? As listeners, how are we really able to judge whether the music changed the artist or the artist changed the music? If anyone has an opinion on this matter, please shout back!

    I’m sorry about having written for so long! I’m just passionate, please understand. :)

    - Jess

    Rentfrow, Peter J. , and Samuel D. Gosling. “The Do Re Mi’s of Everyday Life: The Structure and Personality Correlates of Music Preferences.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84.6 (2003): 1236 – 1256. UTexas. Web. 4 May 2010.

  5.   Ragnaon 05 May 2010 at 5:37 pm 5

    Aileen, while I think your blog post is indeed very interesting and has clear evidence of studies and findings, I can’t say I fully agree with you. If one were to ask me if music shapes my personality, I would have to say no. I think music reflects your personality, in that music is something we can select by mood, or personal taste. Personally, when it comes to music, my taste varies. I run and “get pumped” to heavy techno, and rock&roll, whereas my regular “bus music” consists of mainly indie, and mainstream music. While I do agree with your credible sources, and Im not discounting the facts that music does help in medical terms, I would have to agree more with the fact that music REFLECTS your current mood and personality-because, it’s not like we ALWAYS listen to the same music, right?
    Another thing which one could explore is “What does your musical taste say about you?” A recent study done by Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland suggested classical music fans were shy, while heavy metal aficionados were gentle and at ease with themselves. However, this wasn’t always the case, and he was surprised with his findings.
    From his findings he concluded, “One of the most surprising things is the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal. They’re both creative and at ease but not outgoing” suggesting that despite the “stereotype” you may fall under when it comes to the type of music you listen to, it may not always reflect who you are.
    He also claimed
    “The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and of being a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things.”

    Again, supporting the fact that the personal taste you have, may not always shape who you are as a person.
    As I mentioned earlier, my music taste varies, I myself have over 2,500 songs on my ipod, and coming from a very musical-family, I have been exposed to almost every genre of music. While I can’t say this is the same for everyone, I do feel that we listen to music specifically depending on what mood we are in, in that moment, oppose to what our personality, or stereotype says we should.

    Unknown, Author. “BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Music Tastes Link to Personality.” BBC NEWS | News Front Page. 5 Sept. 2008. Web. 05 May 2010. .

  6.   Bex Lion 19 May 2010 at 9:45 am 6

    Hey Aileen!
    I was hoping someone would do this topic, or something like it. I think you addressed the issue really well, and your inclusion of case studies helped support your argument a lot. Based on my own personal experiences, however, I feel inclined to disagree with you. Music can influence my immediate reactions, but it never has lasting effects on my overall mood. I believe that the music that I listen to is a reflection of my current state. Maybe you’re right, maybe I chose a certain song or other in order to subconsciously enhance whatever I’m feeling at that time, but based on my personal experiences, and relationships with people who listen to the same few songs of the same genre all the time and yet behave differently, or even don’t listen to music, I feel I should disagree that your mood can be altered depending on what kind of music you listen to.
    You state that music is a type of stimuli, and that’s true. External stimuli has a significant affect on behaviour, but it’s difficult to conclusively prove a correlation between any single example of stimuli and another specific behaviour. The Mozart Effect, while strong insofar as qualitative research can make an inference about the context of intelligence, also has some limitations. For example the population sample, which is not mentioned. One study I looked up was carried out by Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University, said to be the largest such study ever undertaken. He examined the connection between musical taste and personality by sampling what appear to be opposites, heavy metal and classical music, and analyzing the unique fans and their behavioral tendencies. While there is no definitive way of measuring personality, their results were quite interesting. Fans of both heavy metal and classical music had very similar personalities, both creative, neither outgoing. What I gleaned from this experiment was that musical taste has no discernible effect on personality, but if there is a relationship it might go the other way. Overall I thought you did a great job analyzing such a difficult topic to quantify, but even after examining your perspective I have to disagree with you. I look forward to reading more of your awesome posts in the future!

    “BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Music Tastes Link to Personality.” BBC NEWS | News Front Page. Web. 18 May 2010. .

  7.   Da268/Dylanon 13 Sep 2010 at 9:03 am 7

    Hey Aileen!
    There are some things I think you have left out of your post that might be interesting to explore in future.

    I think most of the posters here assume that the music that any person listens to is in its entirety due to the tastes of that person in question. This is a base assumption that most of the posters here are making. However, my own personal perspective on this matter begs to differ.

    There are many influences that decide what sort of music and what artists you listen to.

    The first of these is society in general. Most people shirk from Mozart, say, because the classical genre of music is stereotypically outdated by most members of society. Of course, there is always going to be the odd person out who does listen to this genre, but the majority are not. I have found, through my personal experience of the world, that most people are influenced by their environment and that from a social perspective, most people follow trends. Pop or popular music is the embodiment of these trends in music, as is the music in the top 40 of the UK or US charts. People listen to certain kinds of music, and will even listen to stuff like Lil Wayne because everyone else does.

    The second influence is your friends and family. When I grew up as a young kid, all my friends were into heavy metal. Such that over time, I became into heavy metal too. People generally are more used to music that they hear in their childhood and more likely than not, like similar music than that of their friends and family over time.

    Of course there are exceptions to these rules.

    However, I need to backtrack and go back to the original question.

    “Does the music we listen to affect who we are?”

    Ultimately, one can conclude that it does, however that is a statement based on the flawed data you have used for your argument. Yes, the music you listen to may hint at what grade you get in an exam, but this does not mean that music is the cause of those good grade. I believe that the cause of what music we listen to may be the cause of why we get a good grade and I think that has partly to do with genetics, but also to do with environment. Music itself has little to no influence on grade, otherwise I would have never got the scores I got…

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.