Music taste as an indicator of intelligence

Some you might remember a few years back, a bold graduate student called Virgil Griffith took down information about young student’s music tastes and their academic performance, plotting his data down on a nice chart. This very much correlates with my observations, although some students may reel off more artist names than others, with some preferring to name specific artists and others simply content to name genres. There’s some fun observations to be made, such as the wide distribution for Outkast, a band whose sensibilities and humour can be enjoyed on different levels. Still, no one band seems to span right across the spectrum. Seeing Beethoven right at the top there is no surprise. In spite of my disdain toward evasive social constructionism, I can’t help thinking that for the few that got super-high scores, Beethoven wasn’t a choice but thrust upon them by their pushy parents. They’d no doubt decided after consultations that ramming Beethoven down their throat during study time at home would make them even smarter. Very few metal bands named in the list. Tool fans clearly not as clever as they think they are. Lame radio rock and angsty pop bands at the lower end. Ben Folds are pretty nerdy so they’re naturally high up. I can imagine They Might Be Giants coming around the same place.

But back to the point, why wouldn’t music taste be an indicator of intelligence level? Music conveys values – even music that is just music for itself unintentionally conveys values. And values, obviously very much an indicator of intelligence. The social constructionists have to work overtime to talk around this sort of thing. That said, some of the brightest girls in my year at secondary school were like “I dunno, I like Westlife I guess?” but they were the exception to the rule. It would be hard to quantify things like how people digest music and to what extent they emotionally invest themselves in their favourite bands.

~ by CallistoRising on September 4, 2011.

5 Responses to “Music taste as an indicator of intelligence”

  1. Beethoven takes a lot of time and listening to really understand and internalize. I didn’t begin to really appreciate serious music until I was 19; at that point, I found myself wishing that my parents had shoved it down my throat when I was much younger.

    I giggled when I saw the location of jazz on that chart. Like Tool fans, devoted jazz listeners are, seemingly, a wonderful example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

    • My mum would have this collection of classical music, whereas my dad more actively raised me on rock (and all sorts really) and because my dad was the more easy-going of the two, I’d associate classical music with my mother’s bourgeois prudishness. That said, eventually one starts to appreciate it as one matures. Classical music gives maximum possibility for ‘affect’ and evocation, generally speaking.

      Of course, being into one of the more higher-up bands like Radiohead may mean you’re probably intelligent, but not necessarily less annoying. Radiohead are one of my favourite bands ever but many of their fans are insufferable. Tool fans are their ‘metal’ equivalent I suppose.

  2. […] to my post about the casual experiment on music taste and intelligence, I wonder if anyone has taken it upon […]

  3. this is super interesting, i’m not convinced however by this correlation between intelligence and musical taste. rather i think its a more kind of specific intelligence, which allows a person to understand art. For example french-thinker Gaston Bachelard wrote that people would had a certain self-awareness/ a degree of melancholy about them were far more receptive of art. i think that the term intelligence is perhaps misleading and hints at the underlying level of self-evaluation which people are likely to undergo. Musical taste is more about their personal values/ emotional setup than their test scores.

    • That is a very good point. After all, I’ve known plenty of intelligent people who had no particular passion in terms of music taste. It definitely appeals to a certain kind of introspection maybe, but I think that might have a vague correlation with intelligence. Very unintelligent people lack introspection, but that’s not to say very intelligent people necessarily have it.

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