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Down with the muzak

Research into peoples' musical preferences has obvious commercial implications for how music is marketed and advertised

As a research-led university with world-renowned expertise, Heriot-Watt places a high value on the research projects undertaken by our staff.

Professor Adrian NorthProfessor Adrian North is an expert in the social and applied psychology of music, with a particular focus on music and consumer behaviour, music and deviant behaviour and musical preference in everyday life. His research findings have been featured in The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and The Scotsman, as well as in newspapers from as far afield as Australia and Canada.

If you have ever caught yourself listening to a synth muzak version of Let it Be in your local supermarket and wondered why they've chosen to play this, then Adrian North, Professor of Psychology, could give you a few good reasons.

"If you play slow music in supermarkets then people tend to browse more slowly and look at more products. As a result they spend an average of 10-20% more. I shudder to think what 10-20% on the bottom line for Tesco is."

Specialist academic

Music has always been used in marketing, but its use is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Adrian is one of only a small number of specialist academics in the UK producing research in the area. So how does somebody get into music psychology?

If you know the personality of the people who are buying certain music, you know what you need to tell them to get them to buy it

"I enjoyed psychology in my early academic career and I’m a keen amateur musician and it was clear quite early on that I wanted to combine the two. The theories in psychology answered a lot of questions I was asking, like, why does a particular music work or not work? Why does the audience react the way it does?"

It is little wonder then that Adrian has chosen to pursue research interests that are directly applicable to the music industry. His recent work has included a major study into the connection between personality and musical taste.

"We have known for decades that people who like rock and rap are rebellious and that fans of opera are wealthy and well-educated, but for the first time research has shown that personality is also linked to a wide range of musical styles. Other major factors include age and social class, which together give a pretty good picture of an individual’s likely musical predilections."

This has obvious commercial implications for how music is marketed and advertised.

"If you know the personality of the people who are buying a certain musical style, you know exactly what you need to tell people in order to get them to buy it. If you add in factors such as age and sex, location of music played, you can get some very targeted marketing messages out to them."

What your musical taste might say about you

  • Indie fans have low self-esteem and are not very hard-working, but are creative.
  • Heavy metal fans are very creative and at ease with themselves, but not very outgoing or hard-working.
  • Rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing.
  • Dance fans are creative and outgoing, but not very kind or generous.
  • Country and western fans are very hardworking and outgoing.
  • Reggae fans have high self-esteem and are creative, outgoing, kind, generous and at ease with themselves, but are not very hardworking.
  • Classical music lovers have high self-esteem and are creative and at ease with themselves, but are not outgoing.
  • Blues fans have high self-esteem and are creative, outgoing and at ease with themselves.
  • Rock ‘n’ roll fans have high self-esteem and very creative, hardworking and at ease with themselves, but are not very kind or generous.