Music! What are you listening to now?

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Jul 4, 2009
....this rather interesting series of articles came across "my desk" this morning and I thought I'd share.....

Contrary to the movie trope epitomised by Alex in A Clockwork Orange and Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs, psychopaths are no fonder of classical music than anyone else, though they do appear to have other musical preferences, psychologists say.

In a study of 200 people who listened to 260 songs, those with the highest psychopath scores were among the greatest fans of the Blackstreet number one hit No Diggity, with Eminem’s Lose Yourself rated highly too.

The New York University team behind the work stress that the results are preliminary and unpublished, but the scientists are sufficiently intrigued to launch a major study in which thousands of people across the psychopathy spectrum will be quizzed on their musical tastes.

Tests on a second group of volunteers suggest the songs could help to predict the disorder. Whatever their other personality traits might be, fans of The Knack’s My Sharona and Sia’s Titanium were among the least psychopathic, the study found


There’s no doubt that music and the way we think and behave are inextricably linked. Last year, research revealed that practicing music makes communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain stronger and more efficient. This new study is part of an ongoing effort to understand the psychology of music preference, and focuses on whether being more empathetic or more focused on logic and reason could have an effect on musical taste.

A team of psychologists led by David Greenberg, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge, recruited over 4,000 participants and asked them detailed questions about their thinking styles. They were then queried on their musical preferences, with 50 musical excerpts from a wide range of genres provided to help determine this.

Music type preferences for empathizers (Type E), systemizers, (Type S), and those who are balanced (Type B). The more positive the score, the greater the preference. Greenberg et al./PLOS ONE

Empathizers tended to prefer mellow, sensual, reflective music with emotional depth, such as “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones. Soft rock and singer-songwriters tend to produce this type of music.

On the other hand, the logic-oriented “systemizers” preferred quite intense, manic music, which includes the punk rock track “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols; heavy rock and classical tracks were also often chosen as favorable by systemizers.

It appeared that empathizers preferred the rush of emotions, positive or negative, associated with certain types of music. The authors go on to suggest that those lacking in empathy – psychopaths, for example – could perhaps improve their empathy quotient by listening to more emotionally-layered music. Although this link isn’t demonstrated in their study, its possible existence could form the basis of future research.

Conversely, systemizers seemed to enjoy acknowledging and picking apart the complex instrumentation of other types of music. “It’s almost like a musical puzzle that they’re putting together,” Greenberg told CNN. It’s possible to be a mix of both thinking styles, of course, which would make you “balanced.”

....and while that is a fairly simple mapping but there is one more level to this that makes it a bit more complicated ( and hopeful )...

Psychopathic criminals have empathy switch. Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research

....which on the one hand sounds kinda scarey....but on the other offers hope that possibly learning to manipulate that switch, maybe thru music, we may able to "rehabilitate" some of the potential monsters around Hannibal Lechter could have been a great guy if only he had listened to the correct music....