Listening to gospel music 'unexpectedly' linked to several maladaptive traits

Before you judge someone's personality based in their playlist, you may want to read the results of this study.

  • New research predicts links between music and film preferences and recent models of unhealthy and psychopathic personality traits.
  • A study on 379 participants found that conservative music tastes and a preference for faith-based movies that were the most strongly correlated to dysfunctional personality traits.
  • Psychopathy's component of "boldness" corresponded to enjoyment of rhythmic beats, like R&B and party music.

New research suggests that certain music and film preferences may indicate psychopathy and other dysfunctional personality traits. And they're probably not the kinds of songs and movies you would predict.

Media use is a kind of expression of identity. So it's no wonder that our preferences reveal something about our personality traits. A recent study, published in the journal Psychology of Music on August 13, linked maladaptive personality traits and psychopathy to music and movie genre preferences. Surprisingly, it was conservative music tastes and a preference for faith-based movies that were, "unexpectedly," the most strongly correlated to dysfunctional personality traits. So if you love rap or heavy metal, you're in the clear.

In the study, 379 participants completed three questionnaires to gauge their musical tastes, movie preferences, personality characteristics, and psychopathic tendencies. This was done using the Personality Inventory DSM-5, the Triarchic Psychopathy Measure, and questionnaires about music and film preferences.

What our music tastes reveal about our personalities

The study drew on earlier influential research that broke up music genre preference to four to six measurable factors: intense/rebellious, upbeat/conventional and energetic/rhythmic. It also factored in additional research that conceptualized five factors in music: mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, and contemporary. This research linked normal personality traits to certain music tastes using the five-factor model, which measures personality on the characteristics of openness, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

Openness, which is characterized by curiosity and appreciation for varied experiences, consistently predicted eclectic preferences in diverse music, particularly avant-garde genres. An extraverted personality is linked to preferences for fast-paced, energetic music. Agreeableness, which reflects empathy and cooperativeness, correlated with an ear for party music and popular genres like pop and hip-hop.

Abnormal personalities and media preferences

This new study sought to build on previous research to predict links between music and film preferences and recent models of unhealthy and malicious personality traits.

"This is important because valid models of personality should allow us to predict not only mental health and other health outcomes, but also day-to-day activities, like the kind of music and movies people enjoy," Blagov, an author of the study, told PsyPost.

To link music and film preferences to unhealthy psychological traits, the researchers created a model that fits maladaptive traits into the five-factor personality scales.

One finding was that people who are abnormally withdrawn do not dig energizing, upbeat, party music (measured by the "rhythmic" factor). They also tend not to enjoy intense, over-stimulating movies such as those from the horror and thriller genres. Another finding was that people whose thoughts spiral into the strange, odd, and eccentric reported enjoying a wide-range of music and movies. This was true, also, of people who self-identified as portraying the dark narcissistic and psychopathic traits of fearlessness and dominance.

Contrary to previous research, the study found no links between so-called "problem" music genres, such as heavy metal, punk, alternative rock, hip-hop, and rap, and dysfunctional personality traits. One explanation could be that this music has become more mainstream, and so it is less genuinely "rebellious" as it once was. Surprising the researchers, it was conservative music (like country and gospel genres) and faith-based movies that were the most clearly linked to neurotic, hostile, and unusually eccentric tendencies.

This came as something of a shock to the researchers because, as they note, historical research had linked religiosity to "desirable" responses and mental health.

Can you spot a psychopath through their music and film tastes?

Giphy

One of the primary goals of this research was to link psychopathy to music and movie preferences. Psychopathy is a malevolent, unhealthy combination of characteristics that include superficial charm, egocentricity, grandiosity, lack of empathy, insincerity, manipulativeness, recklessness, and unreliability. These unfortunate traits predisposes these individuals to antisocial behavior. Darkest of the "dark triad of personality," psychopathy is thought to encompass three components:

  • Boldness or "fearlessness dominance" (adventure seeking and low stress reactivity)
  • Disinhibition (impulsivity and a lack of constraining behavior when confronted, angered or upset)
  • Meanness (emotional callousness)

In this study, and as previously reported, psychopathy's component "boldness" corresponded to enjoyment of rhythmic beats, like R&B and party tunes. But, interestingly, there was no link between the hostile traits antagonism, disinhibition and meanness with intense or particularly rebellious music. Similarly, psychopathic characteristics did not relate to a love for horror movies.

So, if you're an avid fan of heavy metal or rave music, you're probably not a psychopath. But you might exhibit some risk-taking behavior.

While the correlations between certain personalities and entertainment preferences were small, the authors say that they matter for gasping day-to-day, real-life manifestations of unhealthy or dark personality traits.

But, tempting as it might be, the authors of the study warn against using music and movie preferences to guess at a friend's (or foe's) potential psychopathology — as if their music and film preferences are subtle indicators of a twisted personality.

Why? The correlations simply aren't strong enough to use in clinical inference. Their taste in music may indicate psychopathy — or, it may just be white noise.

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