Newswise — Having preferences for specific things or styles is a significant part of individuals' identities and social interactions. Preferences can shape human behaviors and evaluations. Describing musical taste accurately presents a challenge due to the constantly evolving diversity and metamorphosis of music, making it a subject of ongoing deliberation.

Employing a methodology that took into account sub-genres, a group of researchers in Germany conducted a survey encompassing over 2,000 individuals to explore their musical preferences. The study specifically focused on examining the fan bases of five genres: European classical music, electronic dance music (EDM), metal, pop, and rock.

Anne Siebrasse, a doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and the lead author of the study published in Frontiers in Psychology, stated, "Our analysis demonstrated that individuals who share a fondness for the same genre can exhibit markedly diverse preferences when asked about their preferred sub-genres. Consequently, it is important not to view fans of specific genres as homogeneous groups with identical tastes. Rather, we must recognize the variations within these groups, which are also influenced by factors such as age, gender, educational background, lifestyle, and personality traits."

Subgroups with different preferences

Siebrasse further elaborated, "When individuals discuss their musical preferences, they frequently employ genre labels. However, when examining genres at a broader level, fans of both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would be categorized as rock enthusiasts. Nevertheless, these fans themselves would likely perceive significant distinctions between the two bands and their respective styles."

To capture these variations empirically, Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann, the co-author, devised a questionnaire that allowed participants to express their level of preference for sub-styles associated with the investigated genres. By systematically documenting preferences at both the genre and sub-genre levels, the researchers obtained a more nuanced understanding of musical taste.

Through their examination of attitudes towards sub-genres, the researchers identified several taste categories. Three of these categories exhibited a similar level of liking for all sub-genres, ranging from high to moderate to relatively low, as stated by the authors. However, two distinct taste categories emerged, differing in their preference for sub-styles that were either more complex or easier to comprehend. Regardless of the genre, the mainstream subtypes tended to be favored over the more challenging alternatives.

Additionally, the researchers discovered that various sociodemographic and personality factors, such as age, attitudes related to social background, and openness, played a role in predicting an individual's affiliation with a particular genre group or taste class within a genre. For instance, when examining pop music, the study revealed a distinct age effect. It indicated that people's preferred pop music was correlated with the age group they belonged to. Specifically, individuals tended to favor pop music from the decade when they were approximately 20 years old.

The wider picture

Siebrasse and Wald-Fuhrmann accomplished a more precise depiction of the genuine musical taste within the German resident population compared to previous studies. Their findings, particularly the identification of taste classes within genres, are likely to have broader applicability across different countries and cultures. However, certain results, particularly those specific to particular genres, may be influenced by the historical and cultural significance of those genres within their respective musical contexts.

Siebrasse remarked, "We have taken a significant stride in facilitating the advancement of questionnaires for studying musical taste. Moving forward, it is crucial to expand our approach to encompass other genres and regions. Additionally, a potential next step could involve integrating this type of survey with specific audio samples, allowing for a more comprehensive analysis."

Journal Link: Frontiers in Psychology