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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Jun;100(6):1139-57. doi: 10.1037/a0022406.

The structure of musical preferences: a five-factor model.

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  • 1Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Politics, Psychology, Sociology and International Studies, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.


Music is a cross-cultural universal, a ubiquitous activity found in every known human culture. Individuals demonstrate manifestly different preferences in music, and yet relatively little is known about the underlying structure of those preferences. Here, we introduce a model of musical preferences based on listeners' affective reactions to excerpts of music from a wide variety of musical genres. The findings from 3 independent studies converged to suggest that there exists a latent 5-factor structure underlying music preferences that is genre free and reflects primarily emotional/affective responses to music. We have interpreted and labeled these factors as (a) a Mellow factor comprising smooth and relaxing styles; (b) an Unpretentious factor comprising a variety of different styles of sincere and rootsy music such as is often found in country and singer-songwriter genres; (c) a Sophisticated factor that includes classical, operatic, world, and jazz; (d) an Intense factor defined by loud, forceful, and energetic music; and (e) a Contemporary factor defined largely by rhythmic and percussive music, such as is found in rap, funk, and acid jazz. The findings from a fourth study suggest that preferences for the MUSIC factors are affected by both the social and the auditory characteristics of the music.

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