How do you use music?

Hang on, let me just turn down Paolo Nutini. You see, while reading this new study by the aptly-named Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Adrian Furnham, I was listening to Nutini’s recent live concert in Denver.

Using music in this fashion, as a background to other activities, is one of three ways of using music identified by the researchers. The second is using music to ‘regulate our emotions’ – to cheer ourselves up, say, or perhaps to wallow in sadness – and the last is listening to music as an ‘intellectual pleasure’, admiring the musicians’ technique or the complexity of the composition.

Crucially, Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham believe the way we use music is related to our personality and intelligence. They surveyed 341 British and American university students (aged 17 to 41), and found students with a higher IQ, and those more open to new experiences, were more likely to listen to music for the deliberate, intellectual appreciation of it.
Meanwhile, neurotic types, who tend to experience regular bouts of negative emotions, and introverts, were more likely to say they listened to music as a way of coping with, or changing their mood.

I’ve met people who say they must work in silence, while others believe they can’t do without some musical accompaniment, but in this study, neither intelligence, nor any of the personality measures, were associated with this use of music.

The researchers concluded: “Bearing in mind the many variables that may mediate and moderate our choice and motive for listening to music, the consistency with which personality and intelligence factors are associated with an individual’s style for listening to music, is quite remarkable”. They added that more work was needed in this area, especially cross-cultural studies.

Chamorro-Premuzic T. & Furnham, A. (2007). Personality and music: Can traits explain how people use music in everyday life. British Journal of Psychology, 98, 175-185.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to more on personality and music from PsyBlog.

2 thoughts on “How do you use music?”

  1. Couldn’t there be a conflict in labelling/coding here though? Perhaps people with a higher IQ only look at the way they appreciate music differently. They see it as an appraisal of the art form or whatever, whereas someone with less intellect makes sense of it much more pragmatically.In reality could they not just both be experiencing the exact same things, just sticking different labels on this experience?

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