New research shows it could reveal something about the way you think. 

By Grace Elkus
Updated July 23, 2015
Teenage girl listening to mp3 player
As any preschooler can tell you, repetition nurtures pleasure. When you experience something more than once, you notice more details about it each time, thereby increasing your enjoyment. That’s why you love revisiting that jazz standard, favorite roast chicken recipe, and beloved old Woody Allen movie. Of course, you can overdo it. The effect of repetition on pleasure is an inverted U: You appreciate something more and more over time until, abruptly, it becomes repellent to you. Which is why no one you know can bear to listen to that “I get knocked down, but I get up again” song anymore.
| Credit: Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

If you find yourself humming “Come Away With Me” around the house, it might say more about you than just your love for Norah Jones. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge, your taste in music could provide insight into the way you think—and subsequently the way you perceive those around you.

The team of scientists, led by Ph.D. student David Greenberg, examined how your thinking style—whether you’re an "empathizer" or a "systemizer"—influences your choice in music. More than 4,000 participants were involved in the study, the results of which were published in the journal PLOS ONE. The participants were prompted to fill out psychology-based questionnaires, and then were later asked to listen to and rate fifty 15-second song excerpts, which spanned 26 genres and subgenres of music.

The study defined "empathizers" as people who like to focus on and respond to others’ emotions, and "systemizers" as those who enjoy identifying and analyzing the rules that govern them. People who scored high on empathy preferred mellow music such as R&B and soft rock, unpretentious music such as country and folk, and contemporary music such as electronica and Euro pop. They also preferred music that had low energy, negative emotions, or emotional depth.

Those who scored high on systemizing, on the other hand, tended to prefer intense music (punk and heavy metal), as well as music that had high energy or positive emotions. Even within the specific genre, these results held true.

“Although people’s music choices fluctuates over time, we’ve discovered a person’s empathy levels and thinking style predicts what kind of music they like,” Greenberg said in a statement. “In fact, their cognitive style—whether they’re strong on empathy or strong on systems—can be a better predictor of what music they like than their personality.”

The implications of the research are widespread. It could help the music industry tailor their song recommendations to individuals, and it also provides new insight into the most extreme personality types.

"The research may help us understand those at the extremes, such as people with autism, who are strong systemizers," Professor Simon Baron-Cohen said in the statement.