Music Psychology and Personality Disorders

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According to DSM-5, a personality disorder can be diagnosed if there are significant impairments in self and interpersonal functioning together with one or more pathological personality traits. In addition, these features must be (1) relatively stable across time and consistent across situations, (2) not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment, and (3) not solely due to the direct effects of a substance or general medical condition.

The DSM-5 lists 10 personality disorders and allocates each to one of three groups or “clusters”: A, B, or C.

Cluster A (Odd, bizarre, eccentric)

  • Paranoid PD
  • Schizoid PD
  • Schizotypal PD

Cluster B (Dramatic, erratic)

  • Antisocial PD
  • Borderline PD
  • Histrionic PD
  • Narcissistic PD

Cluster C (Anxious, fearful)

  • Avoidant PD
  • Dependent PD
  • Obsessive-compulsive PD

One large-scale study conducted by researchers at Heriot-Watt University looked at more than 36,000 participants from all over the world. Participants were asked to rate more than 104 different musical styles in addition to offering information about aspects of their personalities.

According to the researcher, Adrian North, the reason people sometimes feel defensive about their taste in music might be related to how much it relates to attitudes and personality.

Research conducted by psychologists Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling suggested that knowing the type of music you listen to can actually lead to surprisingly accurate predictions about your personality. Researchers found that people could make accurate judgments about an individual’s levels of extraversion, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Another study found that the types of music you enjoy may be connected to the ways your brain processes information. Researchers suggest that there are two ways of responding to the world: empathizing involves being able to respond to the world based on social cues, while systemizing involves interacting based upon preset conceptions of how people think they should respond.

In the study, researchers found that people who were empathizers were also more likely to enjoy mellow but emotionally-rich contemporary music, which ranged from indie-rock to country to folk. The systemizers, however, were more likely to prefer complex, intense, energetic music that was upbeat and positive. The systemizers, who researchers suggest tend to follow career paths in math and science, are more drawn to the structural complexity of the music, often liking classical, jazz, and world music.

Source: Cherry, K. 2020