The self-congruity effect of music

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2021 Jul;121(1):137-150. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000293. Epub 2020 Jul 2.


Music is a universal phenomenon that has existed in every known culture around the world. It plays a prominent role in society by shaping sociocultural interactions between groups and individuals, and by influencing their emotional and intellectual life. Here, we provide evidence for a new theory on musical preferences. Across three studies we show that people prefer the music of artists who have publicly observable personalities ("personas") similar to their own personality traits (the "self-congruity effect of music"). Study 1 (N = 6,279) and Study 2 (N = 75,296) show that the public personality of artists correlates with the personality of their listeners. Study 3 (N = 4,995) builds on this by showing that the fit between the personality of the listener and the artist predicts musical preferences incremental to the fit for gender, age, and even the audio features of music. Our findings are largely consistent across two methodological approaches to operationalizing an artist's public personality: (a) the public personality as reported by the artist's fans, and (b) the public personality as predicted by machine learning on the basis of the artist's lyrics. We discuss the importance of the self-congruity effect of music in the context of group-level process theories and adaptionist accounts of music. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Art*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Music*
  • Personality
  • Personality Disorders