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Columbia University researchers know why you chose that playlist, and it’s not about the music

Columbia University researchers know why you chose that playlist, and it’s not about the music
[Photo: rawpixel; Elionas/Pixabay]

And you thought you liked your favorite musicians for their music. How naive!

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A new study out of Columbia Business School and Bar-Ilan University in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that you prefer the music of artists with personalities similar to your own. In other words, you like yourself.

Researchers studied the public personas of the most famous 50 musicians in the Western world, including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Whitney Houston, The Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, and Ozzy Osbourne. In two studies of over 80,000 participants, they found that the personalities of the musicians correlate with those of their fans. A third study of 4,995 participants showed that fans’ personalities predict their musical preferences as much as other strong predictors like gender, age, and features of the music.

Thus, your feverish devotion—or lack thereof—to Bjork or Beyoncé or Ani or Ozzy or Kanye.

The researchers did not set out to better understand groupies. Rather, music is known to shape cultural interactions between individuals and groups, as well as influence listeners’ thoughts and feelings, so understanding the mechanisms of these interactions is paramount. The findings can also help people find a sense of connectedness and understanding—which can bolster mental health. And of course there’s money to be made.

“The findings can pave the way for new approaches for record companies or music management to target and build audiences,” noted coauthor Sandra Matz, an associate professor of business at Columbia Business School.

Most importantly, you can finally comprehend the large fanbases of musicians you find utterly repulsive: Their fans are like them, not you.

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