Bryan Adams or Beethoven? Metallica or Louis Armstrong? It turns out your answer could reveal a lot about your testosterone levels. (If you're a man, anyway.) Research suggests that men who prefer “unsophisticated” forms of music (that is, soft rock, heavy metal, etcetera) tend to have higher levels of testosterone than those who prefer more “sophisticated” genres of music (classical and jazz, for example). The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, is the first to show that biology can influence musical preferences.
Seventy-six volunteers (37 male and 39 female) were asked to listen to 25 musical excerpts from different genres that had been split into five categories: mellow, contemporary, sophisticated, intense, and unpretentious. Then, they rated them according to how much they enjoyed them on a 19-point scale. The researchers took saliva samples from each volunteer to measure their testosterone levels.
While there were negligible differences amongst the female volunteers, the researchers reported a significant correlation between testosterone levels and preferences for certain types of music in the male volunteers, specifically whether they liked "sophisticated" or "unsophisticated" music (their words, not mine). Men who had higher levels of testosterone were much more likely to reveal a preference for genres such as soft rock and heavy metal. Those with lower levels showed more interest in classical and jazz.
What gives? Hirokazu Doi from Nagasaki University, Japan, who was involved in the research, believes it has something to do with the hormone's effect on the brain, particularly in regions like the amygdala, which is involved in the processing of emotions.
It could also relate to personality. After all, several previous studies have linked musical taste to personality type. Men with higher levels of testosterone are typically more rebellious and anti-authoritarian than those with lower levels. Genres such as heavy metal and soft rock may be less accepted by authority figures (teachers, parents, etcetera) and are thus more appealing to their rebellious nature. Again, at this point, this is just a suggestion.
Though interesting, “testosterone is probably one tiny aspect of what music preference constitutes,” Urs Nater from the University of Vienna, Austria, told New Scientist. Previous research has linked mellow music to empathizers, pop music to extraverts, and the song No Diggity to psychopaths.
But, as Doi told New Scientist, if these results are confirmed, it is highly likely that there are other hormones that play a significant role in shaping our musical preferences, not to mention other forms of art.