Personality Traits Can Predict Musical Ability

When it comes to musical aptitude, imagination and openness go a long way.


New research suggests that no one wants to trash hotel rooms because they’re a rock star, but people who want to trash hotel rooms might be predisposed to rock stardom.

A study from the University of Cambridge suggests that individual temperament might have a bigger role in predicting musical talent than you’d expect. The study, published this week in the Journal of Research in Personality, looked at the relationship between musical expertise and the “Big Five” dimensions of personality: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.

Teaming up with the BBC and Goldsmiths University, the researchers recruited over 7,800 volunteers, who were asked to self-assess their own musical expertise as well as participate in tests on rhythm perception and melodic memory.

Linking participants’ musical abilities with their personality scores, the researchers found that high scores on the openness scale — which are associated with imagination, insight, and a broad range of interests — were strong predictors of musical sophistication, even if individuals didn’t identify as musical. In addition, people who scored high on extraversion were more likely to self-report better singing abilities.

Explained this way, the results seem somewhat unsurprising — of course, the group extrovert will be the first up on the karaoke stage — but this is the first time a study this large has attempted to link musical ability and personality traits.

The researchers hope the results will make it easier for teachers to predict which students might have musical talent worth nurturing. “One day science may be able to identify the personality, cognitive, and neurobiological factors that lead to musical genius,” lead author David Greenberg suggested in a press release.

That’s not to say that all open-minded extroverts should be lining up for The Voice. No amount of personality is going to make you any less tone deaf.