Metal fans think systems, pop fans think feelings, study suggests

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Fans of heavy music are more likely to think about how things work in the world rather than how people feel, a study suggests.

And those who prefer softer music are more interested in feelings than systems.

Research at Cambridge University concluded that people who enjoy Metallica tend towards “systemized” thinking, and like music featuring “cerebral complexity” – while people who’d rather hear soft pop like Norah Jones tend towards “empathized” thinking and art of more “emotional depth.”

Lead expert David M Greenberg argues his group’s study could be used to improve online music providers’ suggestions for music a listener might want to hear, after they’ve selected something they already like.

Greenberg tells the BBC: “A lot of money is put into algorithms to choose what music you may want to listen to, for example on Spotify and Apple Music.

“By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine tune their music recommendations to an individual.”

Greenberg’s report, published via Plos One, says: “Those who are type E (bias towards empathizing) preferred music on the Mellow dimension (R&B/soul, adult contemporary, soft rock genres). Type S (bias towards systemizing) preferred music on the Intense dimension (punk, heavy metal, and hard rock).

“Analyses of fine-grained psychological and sonic attributes in the music revealed that type E individuals preferred music that featured low arousal (gentle, warm, and sensual attributes), negative valence (depressing and sad), and emotional depth (poetic, relaxing, and thoughtful).

“Type S preferred music that featured high arousal (strong, tense, and thrilling), and aspects of positive valence (animated) and cerebral depth (complexity).”