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I Need to See Your iPod Before We Can Go Out

What really matters is what you like, not what you are like...Books, records, films — these things matter.

- Rob, from the book/movie High Fidelity

There are a number of dating sites founded on the principle that, when it comes to attraction, similarity matters. Whether it’s based in your religion (e.g., jdate.com) or your computer preferences (e.g., cupidtino.com), online dating sites seem tuned in to the fact that sharing similar interests with a partner is a necessary component of a successful match. I recently stumbled upon a site called tastebuds.fm, which states “we've always been interested in the idea that music taste can say a lot about a person and that for some people it is an important factor when choosing a potential partner.” With the Grammy's just around the corner, I figured it was time to think about the importance of music in relationship initiation.

Although I can’t say that tastebuds.fm is more (or less) effective than other methods in helping people find love, their approach is based on an interesting assumption: If music does communicate something about a person, then it’s possible that knowing about a potential partner’s taste in music could be helpful in gauging whether they are a good match for you. Can you learn about someone’s personality from their music preferences?

Research by personality psychologists Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling has addressed whether musical preferences actually do say anything about people’s personalities. First, their data indicates that music is an important part of people’s lives and individuals believe music says a great deal about themselves and others.1 Second, it’s one of the first things that young people talk about when getting to know one another.2 Rentfrow and Gosling have also identified four general dimensions that describe different music preferences. Which of these genres of music do you like best?

_____ (1) reflective and complex (e.g., jazz)

_____ (2) intense and rebellious (e.g., rock and metal)

_____ (3) upbeat and conventional (e.g., country and pop)

_____ (4) energetic and rhythmic (e.g., rap and electronica/house).

 See below for what these preferences might say about your personality.

When examining these musical preferences in conjunction with personality characteristics (e.g., the Big Five) and other individual difference dimensions, a series of interesting findings emerge.1 

  1. Reflective/complex: People who like reflective and complex music tend to be more open to experience, have better verbal skills, believe they are intelligent, tend to be politically liberal, and are less athletic.
  2. Intense/rebellious: The personality traits associated with preferences for intense and rebellious music were similar to reflective/complex, except that these folks were more athletic and extraverted.
  3. Upbeat/conventional: People who like upbeat and conventional music tended to be more extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, less open to new experiences, and were more politically conservative. They also believed they were wealthier, physically attractive, more athletic, less intelligent, and had poorer verbal skills.
  4. Energetic/rhythmic: Finally, people who like energetic and rhythmic music tended to be talkative, extraverted, and agreeable. They also report being physically attractive, athletic, and politically liberal.

So, although I haven’t seen any data that indicates tastebuds.fm provides better matches than other online dating services, it wouldn’t surprise me if it is better than pairings without much basis (i.e., that hot guy/gal you met at the bar). Music certainly does say something meaningful about our personalities, and IF similarity on these personality characteristics is important to attraction and relationship development (note that I said “IF” here), then the folks at tastebuds.fm might be on to something.

PS: Although we don’t have data on this, we strongly suggest that if Kenny G is on your partner’s iPod then you need to get out. Now.

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1Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2003). The do-re-mi’s of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1236-1256.

2Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2006). Message in a ballad: The role of music preferences in interpersonal perception. Psychological Science, 17, 236-242.

Dr. Benjamin Le - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le's research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.

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Reader Comments (1)

I had to reference this, great work! I myself have long hailed the importance of cultural compatibility. Most people's connection to music, especially, is a profoundly personal and spiritual experience. To have a partner that "doesn't get it" is to be misunderstood at a core level.

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen
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