A preference for instrumental music indicates higher intelligence, research finds.
People who like ambient music, smooth jazz, film soundtracks, classical music and similar genres without vocals tend to have higher IQs.
While vocal music might be seen as the ‘opposite’ of instrumental music, liking vocal music has no link to IQ.
In other words, many people with high IQs also like vocal music, but so do many with less impressive levels of intelligence.
The conclusions come from a survey of 1,500 people.
All were given IQ tests and asked about their preferences for eighteen musical genres.
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.
One theory about why liking instrumental music is linked to high IQ is the cognitive complexity of the music.
However, the researchers found this couldn’t be true.
Opera, for example, is seen as complex, yet the people who like it are no more intelligent than those who don’t.
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.”
Instead, the reason, according to Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, the study’s co-author, is that instrumental music is more novel.
Music that is novel — in other words, developed more recently in evolutionary terms — tends to be preferred by people with higher IQs.
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, 2013) 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).