The connection between personality and musical abilities

New member of the Psychology Department, Dr Nicolas Ruth

One could think that musicians are generally introverted as they practice their instruments all on their own day after day. Others might imagine that musicians are highly extroverted as they must go up on stage and perform in front of an audience. So far research on extraversion and other personality factors has not yet shown how musical abilities and training relate with the development of personality. In fact, it is still not clear if personality can be changed through an activity like making music or if it is stable at a certain age. Soto and Tackett for example claim that the personality of children and adolescents is not stable and may be influenced over time. Recent research has shown that adolescent’s musical abilities are good predictors for positive traits like cognitive abilities, school performance, and prosocial behaviour. However, none of these studies can say whether musical abilities are the cause or the result of the development of these traits.

That is why, in the LongGold project, a Humboldt Foundation-funded study investigating the development of musical abilities, a longitudinal design is used to answer the causal question: what comes first, musical abilities or certain traits? In this project, personality is regarded as one of the key factors that might influence or might be influenced by music abilities. Research so far has shown that the personality trait, openness to experience, is a reliable predictor regarding whether children will carry on making music in adulthood. These results were confirmed by Butkovic, Ullén and Mosing’s with their study of twins. However, longitudinal data is missing to answer the causality question.

The longitudinal LongGold study accompanies pupils from various schools in the UK and Germany over several years. The aim is to test how their musical abilities, intelligence, self-concepts, and personality develop. To this end, a battery of tests was assembled using child-oriented psychological questionnaires and newly developed tests (see for example, a fun quiz on mistuning perception or beat perception. The battery is browser-based which means pupils can use their own or their school’s desktop computers, laptops, or tablets to participate. The research team brings enough headphones so that every student can complete the tasks on their own (as shown in the picture). If you want to test your own skills, you might want to give the mistuning perception test or the beat test a try.

LongGold testing in Altenstadt, Germany


The first schools that took part in this study joined in 2015 and since then more and more have joined. Every year, the research team comes back to the same schools and collects data from the pupils. Not only does the number of schools keep growing, but also so does the LongGold team. Dr Nicolas Ruth is a postdoctoral researcher who recently joined Goldsmiths Psychology department to work with Professor Dr Daniel Müllensiefen on the LongGold project after receiving a Feodor-Lynen Fellowship from the Humboldt-Foundation for two years. Nicolas completed his PhD in 2018 and worked as a research fellow/lecturer at the University of Würzburg in the Department of Media and Business Communication from 2012 until 2019. His PhD was about the effects and representation of prosocial music. The papers of his PhD included, amongst others, a field study on the effects of prosocial music on the prosocial purchasing behaviour in a café and a content analysis on topics and references to prosocial behaviour in popular song lyrics. Additionally, he has worked in the field of music and media where he published work on music programming for radio stations and on the reception of music talent shows.

Daniel and Nicolas hope to collect data that shows how personality and musical abilities influence each other. If you are interested in the project watch out for results soon!

Nicolas is a postdoctoral researcher working on the development of musical abilities and personality. He joined Goldsmiths Psychology department in May 2019 to work with Professor Daniel Müllensiefen on the LongGold project, a Humboldt Foundation-funded study investigating the development of musical abilities. Therefore he received a Feodor-Lynen Fellowship from the Humboldt-Foundation for two years. Nicolas completed his PhD in 2018 and worked as a research fellow/lecturer at the University of Wuerzburg in the Department of Media and Business Communication from 2012 until 2019. 
The LongGold project is a longitudinal study on the development of musical abilities as well as related cognitive and social skills during adolescence, conducted together with several schools across the UK and Germany. His personal research focus within this project is on the development of personality and how it is affected by musical abilities.
More information on the grant: 
https://www.humboldt-foundation.de/web/lynen-fellowship.html

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