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Researchers recently discovered a link between human personality and musical ability that applies even for people don’t play instruments. According to the study, people with open personalities – unusually curious, adventurous and willing to try out new things, are also more likely to be musically gifted.

“We had expected to see that openness predicted musical ability for those who played a musical instrument, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that openness also predicted musical ability for those who had no musical experience at all,” David Greenberg, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Cambridge and lead author of a paper about the research, told The Huffington Post in an email.Via Huffington Post

Differences in personality traits are a huge deal in the world of psychology, and a lot of attention has been given to this area of interest. As a result, when you hear someone say he or she is extroverted or introverted, you probably already have some idea of what they mean and what behavior to expect from them.

Openness is one of the Big Five personality traits – the others are Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN).

The study involved testing the musical abilities (ability to recall melodies and perceive rhythms) of 7,800 participants. The participants included both musicians and non-musicians. Next, they completed a questionnaire designed to test the extent to which their personalities were aligned to each of the Big Five.

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Musical Love By Blair – Deviant Art

They found that aside from musical experience, the next best predictor of musical ability was personality, and specifically, Openness. While people who are high on Openness are open to new ways of thinking, people who score low on Openness (or who are ‘Closed’) are more set in their ways, prefer routine and the familiar, and tend to have more conventional values.

For example, someone high on Openness will likely vacation to a new destination each year, whereas someone low on Openness is likely to revisit the same location year after year. When it comes to music, being open enables the listener or performer to think outside the box, explore a range of musical ideas and perspectives, and to incorporate them into their own musical experience. The research also suggests that being open and flexible helps the listener to spot when there are subtle shifts and changes in the music’s rhythm or melody. Via Goldsmiths

They also found that extraverted participants demonstrated higher self-reported singing abilities.

In addition to Openness, the researchers also found that Extraversion was linked to higher self-reported singing abilities. This suggests that being extraverted allows singers to be more assertive and comfortable in the spotlight. Via Goldsmiths

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These findings prove that our musical behaviors are not as random as we might assume. Additionally, such information can be very useful for music teachers when trying to determine which of their students would be most successful in particular music programs.

“Some people think that our musical behaviors are random, but recent research is showing that our daily musical experiences are tied to our personality and even other factors such as our thinking styles,” Greenberg said. Via Huffington Post

Although psychologists may not be too eager to adopt the findings of a study that links personality traits to behavior, the contribution this makes to the music world is undeniable. A professor of music psychology, Dr. Emery Schubert, had this to say:

“An impressive part of this study is that it is carefully designed and makes some connections between musical experiences and personality traits that were not made before,” he said. Via Huffington Post

music and personality
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Another interesting finding of this study was that the links between personality and performance in musical tasks were equally observed in people that played musical instruments and those that didn’t. This suggests that there may be lots of people out there with musical talent who don’t even know it.

Dr Jason Rentfrow, the senior author on the study, says: “Psychologists had originally focused on the links between personality and musical preferences, but it’s turning out that personality has far more of a pervasive role in our everyday musical experiences, including our musical ability.” Via Goldsmiths

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