Liking instrumental music of any type is a sign of a higher IQ, research finds.
Whether it is classical music, film soundtracks, ambient, smooth jazz or even big band, people who like music without the human voice have higher IQs.
In contrast, most people, including those with high IQs, like vocal music, of whatever type — it doesn’t tell us anything about a person’s intelligence.
And it is not down to the cognitive complexity of the music, the study’s authors argue.
For example, while opera is often seen as complex and high-brow, people who like it are no more intelligent than those that hate it.
The study’s authors write:
“It would be difficult to make the case that big-band music is more cognitively complex than classical music.
On the other extreme, as suspected, preference for rap music is significantly negatively correlated with intelligence.
However, preference for gospel music is even more strongly negatively correlated with it.
It would be difficult to make the case that gospel is less cognitively complex than rap.”
The results come from a survey of 1,500 people who rated 18 different genres of music, along with taking an intelligence test.
The results showed that…
“…net of age, race, sex, education, family income, religion, current and past marital status and number of children, more intelligent Americans are more likely to prefer instrumental music such as big band, classical and easy listening than less-intelligent Americans.”
A second similar survey of thousands of 16-year-olds and their musical preferences was carried out in the UK in the 1980s.
This also found a link between high intelligence and a preference for instrumental music.
An evolutionary explanation
The explanation for this link between IQ and musical preferences may go back into our evolutionary past.
Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, the study’s co-author, thinks that instrumental musical is more ‘evolutionary novel’ and therefore linked to a higher IQ.
This explanation is highly debatable (see Dutton, 2013), but the link is still fascinating.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making (Kanazawa & Perina, 2011).