Mosh pit psychology: why some people love rock music

Warped Tour Mosh Pit by Ted Van Pelt, on FlickrThe reasons for our personal preferences in music are many and complex. I, for example, was delighted to see Metallica headline at this year’s Glastonbury festival; many other musos were probably trying to scratch their skin off at the prospect. It is likely that many of our melodic likes and hates are linked to both our life experiences and our personalities. Finding out the exact reason for any individual’s likes will be harder than playing a Joe Satriani lick, however. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped some researchers trying to work out the link between a person and their playlist.

Research conducted through University of Texas found that there were links between musical preference and personality type. The researchers quizzed 3,500 volunteers about the music they liked listening to and then put them through a raft of personality tests. They concluded that:

  1. People who listen to ‘reflective and complex’ music (blues, classical, jazz, folk) tend to be open, intelligent and politically liberal.
  2. People who listen to ‘upbeat and conventional’ music (pop, country, religious, soundtracks) tend to be conscientious, have good self-esteem and politically conservative. They are also more likely than most to view themselves as attractive and athletic.
  3. People who listen to ‘energetic and rhythmic’ music (dance, rap, hip-hop, electronic, funk) are also more likely to think themselves athletic and attractive. Such people also tend to be outgoing and agreeable but have a tendency to ‘blurt’ out what’s on their mind.
  4. The rockers are those who like ‘intense and rebellious music’ (heavy metal, rock, alternative). Such people have personalities inclined to be less open and a little outspoken (extrovert). They have a slight tendency to think themselves as politically liberal, intelligent and athletic.

You can read the full research paper here.

Most people consider listening to music an important part of their lives and something we do frequently. Needless to say, this research makes some pretty big generalisations and so can’t be taken as gospel. It is also not possible to say whether it is our personality that dictates what we listen to, or whether listening to certain music alters our personality.

The thoughts, emotions and memories evoked from a piece of music will be different for everyone. The best way to find out why someone prefers a Chilli Peppers riff over a Beethoven concerto is probably to just ask them. But as a rock fan, you’re pretty intelligent so you knew that already, right?

Answer by Dr Stu

Image source: Warped Tour Mosh Pit by Ted Van Pelt, on Flickr

Article by Stuart Farrimond

August 6, 2014

Doctor Stu is editor of Guru Magazine. He originally trained as a medical doctor before deciding to branch out into lecturing, writing, editing and science communication. He drinks far too much coffee, eats lots of ice cream and has a bizarre love of keeping fit.
You can check out Doctor Stu’s blog at or his poncy personal website Here's his .

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2 thoughts on “Mosh pit psychology: why some people love rock music”

  1. Yes music does affect the brain, and helps you study, loud rock music affects teenager’s brains, as they have not fully developed.

    Listening to music is part of who we are and the connections it makes on more than one level

  2. dr. Stu –

    I’ve been on a STP/Velvet Revolver obsession after learning of the death of Scott Weiland. I’ve watched a ton of interviews, videos, etc. I thought I understood this particular brand of rock, part Halloween, part rebellion, part business, but after hearing so many of these broken rock muscians stories, clearly there’s more to it that. They’re not rock ‘n roll bad asses, but very psychologically damaged people turning their pain into paychecks. Scott Weiland was so damaged, but the more damaged he became the more valuable he was. Anyway I wonder if you have any thoughts on this.


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