Why do We Like the Music that We Like?

Why do We Like the Music that We Like?

"Headphones" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by TalAtlas

Music is something that we all have a personal affinity to on some level or another. Whether you love it or just like it, there are very few people in this world who seem to be indifferent to it. Music is literally everywhere. Watching a movie? An entire soundtrack goes into that. At a nightclub? There's a DJ playing songs they think the crowd will love to hear. Shopping at the supermarket? There's usually a radio station playing the latest jams to keep shoppers happily whisking around the store.

Music is played for loads of different reasons, but one of the major ones is to evoke some kind of emotional reaction. In the scenarios already discussed, it's easy to see how that's the case. In a romance movie, for example, music tends to be huge, orchestral, or perhaps cheesy, just at the moment where the drama is solved and the happy couple, holding hands, walk off into the sunset. Cue the credits! Or, when you're in that club, even the biggest fan of The Smiths probably wouldn't enjoy too many of their misery-inducing lyrics on the dance floor. And in our supermarket scenario, of course, the more upbeat the song, the happier shoppers are, and the more they'll buy (that's the theory, anyway!).

It's really hard to get people to agree on which songs are the best, as we all like so many different things, and depending on our mood and the circumstances, this changes, too. However, the charts are a really good indication of what the masses prefer, giving a true indication of what's popular. In this day and age, with new technology like streaming being taken into account when calculating the charts, things are even more accurate, as it's not just physical music being bought!

People can get a kick out of knowing what's cool as well (just ask DJs, they make an entire career out of that...), which is why we all like to try and guess what's going to top the charts. Have you noticed the hype over Christmas Number One every year? Well, some people even get into hottest 100 betting, because if you guess the top spot right, you could be in on a nice return - and, of course, you can then show off how you were right and that you're therefore a pretty good judge when it comes to music.

So why are some songs more popular than others, and why do some of us have such vastly different tastes? The psychology is actually really interesting, and there are apparently two accepted schools of thought. Some say that everything is random and that our experiences shape the things we like now. That's probably true; people are so easily nostalgic when it comes to music, so chances are that if a song was playing at your school prom and you had the best night of your life, you're always going to associate the song (and perhaps even the style) with having a good time.

Psychology Today discusses the other reasons for preferring certain kinds of music in great depth. They include the fact that music can help us do certain tasks more effectively, to stimulate our intellectual curiosity, and to manipulate or influence our emotional state. This means it can be closely related to our emotional world. Ever put on a sad song when you're feeling sad? Some people like to wallow in it (they're probably the ones listening to The Smiths), whilst others prefer something more cheery (maybe Justin Bieber?). Therefore, we're all different, which is why our tastes differ.

The Psychology Today article concludes that there have been no direct links found to point certain music fans to certain traits, except for anecdotal evidence. So, whilst you probably think the guy down your street who loves heavy metal is moody and aggressive, it really may not be the case. Likewise, just because that girl in your class listens to rap all the time, it doesn't mean she has any desire to join a gang.

We all have such different lives and go through such a range of experiences. Doesn't it makes sense, then, that our music tastes should be so varied, too?