PM Pick

The iTunes personality test

A few days ago PsyBlog reported on a study that revealed that people just getting to know one another frequently talk about music and that music serves as a powerful means of signalling personality traits. Here are the details of how the study worked:

participants were asked to judge people's personality solely on their top 10 list of songs. This was compared to participants results on a standard type of personality test measuring the big five personality traits: openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability. Overall the results showed that music preferences were reasonably accurate in conveying aspects of personality. Of the five traits, it was a person's openness to experience that was best communicated by their top 10 list of songs, followed by extraversion and emotional stability. On the other hand, music preferences didn't say much about whether a person was conscientious or not.

The study led me to wonder, though, if you couldn't develop an iTunes plug in that would interpret your personality to yourself by analyzing what you are currently playing or have played most often most recently along the lines of how Pandora analyzes music and makes recommendations. (I need something to tell me why I am listening to so much Jandek.) It would work like a horoscope, perhaps, making oracular pronoucements about how you are feeling and what you seem to need. When iTunes inevitably becomes a social networking tool, this horoscope could link you to other people who might be especially compatible with you. If music is proxy for personality, it seems a cinch to make networked iTunes libraries into a kind of dating service.

Still, I found the specific findings of what music makes for what personality a little suspect:

What some music preferences mean for personality:

* Likes vocals: extraverted

* Likes country: emotionally stable. On the face of it, this is bizarre really because country music is all about heartache. Either the emotionally stable are attracted to country music or it has a calming effect on the unstable!

* Likes jazz: intellectual

These correlations seem entirely contingent on popular associations, not some intrinsic quality of the music, and will likely change as the public perceptions of these genres change. Also the signalling power of these genres diminish the more they are understood as sheer signals, and the authenticity of a person's preferences become questionable in light of their obvious instrumentality. If everyone knows you can say you are into the Shins to establish some kind of indie credibility, then liking the Shins no longer signifies that. The music's usefulness as signal empties it of the specific quality it originally conveyed. That's why this is such a poignant and powerful PSA. Music preferences become subject to the rational expectations critique -- the alleged coolness of the preference is already built in by the time you choose to like something, so you get no added coolness out of the choice. You have to choose to like something uncool and hope the zeitgeist blows in that direction. Likewise, jazz signals not that you are intellectual, but that you were aware that it would make you seem as though you are intellectual at the time the choice was made. The more obvious the signal, the less authentic the choice seems, and the less it seems to reflect your true personality as opposed to the one you are scheming to convey. I don't think this study undermines this, because music selection and personality test taking can both be games of projecting who you want to be rather than measuring something that's there and beyond your control. This, in fact, may be why it is always a waste of time to try to determine what someone's "true" personality is -- it is always ad hoc, contingent on choices in the moment, on what one seeks to stress and minimize.

Perhaps this is why I find the question of what music I like a really annoying one to answer, because it has nothing to do with, well, what music I like. I secretly resent the question; it's another way of asking, "Who the hell do you think you are?" It's like the spot on social networking profiles that encourage you to list what books and records and movies you like; this is impossible to do honestly. Generally I'm very reticient to disclose my personality (why I wear a de facto uniform), which, New York magazine tells me, places me in a moribund demographic. I just strongly suspect that anything I say about myself, no matter how well-intentioned, will eventually be made into a lie by my actions, what people should probably judge me by. Which raises this question: Is forming tastes about consumer-culture product now the only form of public action left open to us?

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.