People who like instrumental music tend to have higher IQs, research finds.
Instrumental music includes everything that does not have lyrics, such as ambient, classical, smooth jazz, big band and some film soundtracks.
Almost everyone, whatever their IQ, though, likes vocal music.
A preference for vocal music does not provide a signal about intelligence.
The reason that higher IQ is linked to the preference for instrumental music has nothing to do with the cognitive complexity of the music.
Opera, for example, is often seen as complex, but it says nothing about people’s intelligence.
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 conclusions come from two surveys of thousands of people who were asked about their musical preferences and given IQ tests.
Both found a link between higher intelligence and preference for instrumental music.
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.”
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).