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Arousal and biological inlluences on music listening behaviour

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Musical preferences
Alexandra Lamont and Alinka Greasley
IS chapter explores our current understanding of why we like and choose to listen to the music that we do. We begin by carefully defining terms and considering methods, moving on to discuss the biological influences of arousal and other personality traits on music preference, questions of style discrimination, and nally the cultural influences of experience upon preference. The chapter evaluates existing models of music preference and considers further directions and challenges in the freld.

an individual's preferences over longer time periods' (Hargreavs a al.2OO6,p. 135). In practice, shorter-terrh experiences of preference inform longer-term judge ents of taste and vie versa, in a cycle of reciprocal feedback

lntroduction
Liking for music in general is a strong human trait which can be as rewarding as food, sex, or drugs (e.9. Blood and Z,atorre 2OOl; Panksepp and Bernatz 2002). Certain features ofmusic such as consonance are also liked from early infancy (Trainor and Heinmiller 1998), and
these uniquely human preferences for music are

whether style or piece, that people like and

A further implicit distinction exists b tween research focusing on liking for specific pieces of music and that which explores liking for styles of music. Some theoretical explanatiors attempt to bring these two dirnensions together (for example experimental aesthetics: see North and Hargreaves [2000a]). However, most of the research tends to confound r sponses to the piece and the style level, or to draw broader conclusions about sle preference from research using specific pieces. This chapter will thus adopt a broad definition of musical preference as referring to the music,

(Hargreaves et a l. 006).

not found in primates (Iamont 2005). Research into liking for difierentkinds of music reveals a multitude of different concepts, some-

choose to listen to at any given moment and over time, higblighting these important dimensions througbout.

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times used interchangeably. Over the last two decades, researchers have generally adopted Price's (198 ) defnition ofpreference as choosing or giving advantage to one thing ov r another. A relatively constant distinction has emerged between the concepts of taste (a relativ stable valuing) and preference (a shorterterm commitment), occupying opposite ends of a continuum (Abeles and Chung 199 ). More recently, definitions of preference have also included specific notions of temporalitp'a person's liking for one piece of music as compared with another at a given point in time', while taste is held to reflect'the overall patterning of

Methods of studyin l musical preferences


The moment of choice can be measured at a number of levels and using a divers of meas_ ures (see also Abeles and Chung 1996). These measures can take place either in artificial laboor somewhere in between (such as imagining a realife setting and one's likely responses to it in the laboratory). First, behavioural choices include listeners' psychophysiological responses to a given piece of music, short-term decisions about which
ratorysettings' in more ecologicallyvalid contex

piece to listen to, or realJife patterns of

results.

viewing of participants to uncover the richness and complexi of their everyday musical tastes (e.8. DeNora 2000). The few studies combining different methods (e.9. Hargreaves 1988) showthat different meas_ ures have different uses: self-report measures (particrrla rating scates) are more suit d to describing general long-term preferences, while behavioural measures seem more usefril in dis_ criminating between examples within a particular style. There thus tends to be a relarively low correlation between results, and verbal meas_ ures do not predict behaviour consistently. It is important to consider the choice of meihod. alongside research questions, and to consider how far methods limit the generalizability of

Another popular technique is in-depth inter-

systematically throughout the literature.

Preferences, although these have not been used

Gosling's (2003) Short Test of Musical

Zuckerman's (198 ) Music preference Scale, consisting of 60 established music categories from the US record industry or Renrfroi and

have been developed, for example Litle and

response to descriptions or names of types or pieces of music), individual preference nomina_ tions, or through interviews. The most common verbal report measure is the rating scale, pi_ cally requiring individuals to rate their prefer_ ence for a list of predetermined musical styles on Likert scales. Several music preference sca.les

Secondly, choices can be expressed verbally in either spoken or written form, using rating scales or semantic differentials (either in response to a range of music provided or more abstractly in

ing simultaneous through different channet. A further behavioural method involves ptaying :!l".tr of music to participants and asking for different kinds of behavioural as we[ as vJ.bal response (e.g. Marshall and Hargreaves 2007).

spends listening to different sles ofmusic play-

chasing. Comparisons between two or more musical stimuli can be studied in infants, chil_ dren and adults using preferential looking/listening paradigms (Trehub 2006) or variaiions on the Operant Music Listening Recorder (Greer a al. 1974; North and Hargreaves 2000b), which measures the amount of time a pa(icipant

as shown by concert attendance or music pur_

engagement with music over longer time spans

Arousal and biologicat influences on music listening behaviour


to familia and rrnfamiliar rnusic are similar (e.g. (2001) found that when listeners reported more At a biologicallevel, music that we prefer seems to afiect us differentty. Some physiological responses

Craig 2005; Lai 2004), but Blood and Zatorre intense 'chills' or highly pleasurable intense erperiences, areas of the brain responsible for

reward, emotion and arousal were more strongly activated. One explanation for music preference focuses on the notion ofarousal as the undering motivator for music listening behaviour.

Experi mental aesthetics


Berlyne's psychobiological rheory (197t), see also Chapter 14 this volume) argues that prefer_ ence results from the interaction between an individual's level ofarousal (held to be relatively stable) and the arousing properties of the music itself (more variable). Researchers have explored the musical characteristics which contribute to its arousal potential including protofypicality,

preferences (North and Hargreaves 1997a, 2000. Short-term preference for certain types to characteristics of that music. For example, North and Hargreaves (1995a) found a posiiive linear relationship between liking and familiarof unfamiliar music can be consistently relaied

pants with simpl often artificially contrived and always experimenter-selected, musical stimuli and then measuring their verbal or behavioural

complexity, familiarity, tempo, and volume (North and Hargreaves 1995a, l99 b; Russell 1986). This research typically presents partici-

ity for new age musi and an inverted U-shaped relationship between liking and subjective compledty of the musical examples. This complements recent neuropsychological evidence about the arousing effects ofmusi on the brain (see Chapter ll this volume). It also assumes that preference expressed in an experi_ mental setting for a given piece will be refleitive of more generalized preference for a given musical stle. Using Beatles songs performed in different musical sryles, North and Har greaves (lD7b) found style was a more important determinant ofliking than song: liking for yesterday in a jazz

162'

CHAPTER't5 ruusical'prererences

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style, for example, related more to [steners'

lik-

ingfor jazz than to their liking for Yuterday' Ttiis suggests there is some merit in using pieces as representative of given styles, but most researih has not addressed this explicitly' One strength of this approach in explaining preference is-that listeners' individuat ratings of iamiliarity and subjective complex with the music are assessed within each study, thereby

liking. However, it is limited through the use of piecei of music tlat are tyPically and intentionally unfamiliar to the listeners, together with,the assumption that preferences for a piece reflect

accounting for the effects ofprior experience on-

Factors related to extraversion typically relate to Preference for particular arousing styles of sensation seekers with higb **i". Fo. "o-pie, levels of optimal stimulation prefer more intense and/or complex styles of music like hard rock' soft rock foU< ana chssical music (Litle and Zuckerman 1986). Preference for higNy arousing music such as heavy metal, rocls dance and rap and correlates with high levels ofresting arousal 1999)' Ballard and (McNamara sensation-seeking Preference for hard rock music islinked to excitement-seeking and extraversion (Pearson and Dollinger 2004), high levels ofpsychoticism and impu iveness (Rawlings et aL 1995), and a rela(Rawlings and tive dislike of other forms of music

Rentfrow and Gosling's (2003) study reflects a comprehensive attempt to analyse the relationship betreen liking for music and aspects of personality. However, they note care rlly that cultural and environmental influences also shape the music that an individual will lite. Other personality researchers provide evidence that personali traits and music preferences are linked by a third factor of musical erqrerience. For example, Rawlings and Ciancarelli (1997) found that preferences for popular and rock music, associated with extraversion and less
openness to experience, were accompanied by a Iess intense interest in music and less musical training (see also Pearson and Dollinger 2004). This suggests that the influence ofexperience on personality and on music preference has yet to be fully explored. The valid ofthe rating scale approach which has dominated this research depends on sufficient awareness ofthe differences between musical styles and style labels. Litle and Zuckerman's (1986) scale included specific stylistic examples for guidance, but both their examples and styles

temperament and personality dimensions and musical preferences. For example, personality type maybe a dircct cause ofmusical preferences, or, as suggsted above, may influence individuals'levels of engagement with music and musical activities which, in turn, affects their musical preferences. To our knowledge, none of the research has yet addressed these interactions. Finalln this emphasis on the intra-individual level neglects the social context in which the music listening is taking place.

more general durable style preferences'

Furthermore, although Berlyne argued that familiarity and exposure should change individual preference, Iittle research has exPlored

Ciancarelli 1997). Conversely, preferences for


'softer' forms of music are associated with lower (Rawlings levets of psychoticism and extraversion

Towards a more contextually grounded understanding of musical preferences


social vacuum, and that it is vital to consider social interactions, emotions, moods, and other environmental factors in order to understand

changing preferences ov r time. The effects of ,.p.u:t J.t potore have been studied over relatively short time sPans, from hours to weeks (e.g. Peretz et al. i998; Hargreaves irsL yet developmental evidence suggests that stylistic preferJnces cbange in resPonse to a complex (e'g' set of experiential factors over the lifespan Hargreaves and North 1999; see also Chapter 22 this volume). It is important not to over-interpret preferences expressed at a given moment in iime as bei"g rePresentative of more enduring patterns of taste (see also Lamont and Webb in
press).

(20M) found et al, p6si'Pearson and Dollinger a greater showed people intuitive that higNy prefereice-for classical, jazz, soul and folk music' Some research has attempted to explain the connection between music preference and personality in relation to characteristics ofthe music rather ihan style labels. For example, Rentfrow and Gosling (2003; p..t"ttttd data indicating that music preferettces can be organized into four independent dimensions:

Koneni (1982) argued that experimental researchers often treat music as ifit existed in a

music choices. This raises the necessity of


explaining how listening behaviour changes as a function of its immediate social and non-social antecedents, concurrent cognitive activity and resultant emotional states. More naturalistic research has drawn on real musical stimuli and attempted to simulate reallife situations to account for both the music and the listening context. For example, North and
Hargreaves (1996a, b, c, 2000b) investigated the

Reflective and comPlex

2 Intense and rebellious 3 Upbeat and conventional, and

lndividual differences

4 Energetic and rhythmic.


They then explored correlations between these

validity. However, no matt

Rawlings and Ciancarelli 1997). Rentfrow and Gosling (2003) derived their scale from empirical data about spontaneously nominated categories of liking, rated by judges and compared with industry categorization processes, and finally tested for familiariq 29 out of 30 Participants could provide preference ratings for the 14 items, which they suggest confirms their

are culturally and historically specific

(see

Research has also explored the notion that different individuals have unique, preferred levels of arousal which explain their global music pref-

erences

predict differences in preferential listening

for style. Temperament diff rences

Lehaviour, even at 8 months ofage. Trehub atal (2002) found that infants who Iistened longer to a soothing version of a nursery song were rated by their mothets as calm and easy-going, while

dimensions and personality, self-views andcognitive abil ratings, finding a number of sig-ni cant relationships. For example' people wto preferred reflective and complex music also had aaive imaginations, valued aesthetic experiences, and viewed themselves as intelligent
and tolerant; people who preferred upbeat and conventional music were more extrovert' agfeeable, conservative, and less open to new experiences, They Pres nt a number of associations'

labels are construaed, the fundamental problem remains that rating scales reflect a reductionist

how carefully

reciprocal relationship between listener and context. Specific musical variables (mostly arousal potential) were manipulated, but the experimental conditions were naturalistic settings such

adults typically report preference for many different styles of music, which they often label idiosyncratically (Greasley and Lamont 2006). This sophistication and level of complexity presents an enduring challenge for the field.

approach. Qualitative approaches show that

univers cafeteria. Listen rs preferred highly

as

yoga classes, aerobics classes, and a

arousing music during periods of exercise and arousal-moderating music when relaxing. However, although causal relationships can be established using experimental methodology,
even these more naturalistic investigations appear to be treating the 'social' as an experimental vari-

those who preferred a playfirl version of thc ,"-. *^g *"." rated as higNy active' Research with aduits in this individual differences tradition typically employs established personality *.u,,ri., together with questionnaire-based music preference measures such as Litle and Zuckerman's Music Preferences Scale (1986)' looking for correlations between the two'

some of which appear rather sPurious (for

Summary and evaluation of arousal-based explanations


In addition to the issues raised above, both
experimental aesthetics and individual differences approaches focus exclusively on the intra-

example, why should people who like-energetic rhythmic music be more likely to eschew conm servative ideals?), but which they suggest may

time set the groundwork for a comprehensive theory of music Preferences.

individual level. They thus remain unable to identify the nature ofthe relationship between

responsible for slow progress in the scientific understanding ofresponses to music. He argues

menter, in an environment controlled and constructed by the experimenter) may be

able. Sloboda (1999) argues that the continuing use ofa traditional positivist paradigm (presenting listeners with music chosen by the experi-

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both researctrer-chosen and participant-chosen music, repeated music listening over long time .p-r, uo-d repeated in-depth interviews' This siudy led to a heightened awareness from participants of the ways in which they use music in hfe (see also Carlton 2006; Sloboda "u.rya"y ai. zoot1. Greasley and Lamont (200 ) also "t found differences between more and less engaged music listeners in terms of listening behaviour' preferences, and self-awareness. Less musically engaged adults lacked a strong commitment to arry musical style, and were more lik to listen

Explaining and predicting music preferences

i[ll

. 165

that music listening is 'intensely situational' (p. 355) and thus context becomes central' This has led to another recent shift in approach

towards a focus on capturing people's everyday musical pradices and preference behaviour in the contexts in which they naturally occur'

Preferred music in everyday life


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Studies have begun to investigate people's use of music in everyday contexts (Juslin and laukka 2004; North et at.2004; North and Hargreaves

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2007; Sloboda et aI. 2o}l). Typically using Experience Sampling Methodology (ESM)' partiants are contacted (via pagers or mobile telephones) at random intervals during the day and asked to complete response sheets about their music listening- Although these studies predominantly focus on the functions of music in everyday life, the results emphasize the con' cept ofchoice. People choose different types of music for different reasons (i.e., they have specific goals and purPoses that music engagement fills), and their motivations for music listening
are context-dependent.

tant role in the formation of identity through

driving simulation tasks (Cassidy 2006). Thus Iistening to preferred music has powerfirl effects on asp cts of behaviour outside voluntary control as well as on mood and affect. In these cases, the nature of the musical stimulus has no bearing whatsoever on the phpical and psychological effects. Other uses of musical preferences are more closely tied to the particular music that an individual or a group shows preference for. During adolescence, musical preferences play an impor-

information' (the musical stimulus and the listener's cultural environment) and listener characteristics and behaviour. The approach is usefril in formally identiSing the large number oftypes ofvariables that fall into the three broad categories. For example, the listener's culrural environment includes the variables of media, peer group, family, educators and authority figures, and incidental conditioning. The model traces a
trajectory through listener characteristics such preference decision at a given moment, which then influences subsequent behaviour (e.g., acceptance and then repetition ofthe stimulus). While the detail is potentially usefirl, the fact that every variable potentially interacts with every other means, as LeBlanc concedes, that this is unlikely to serve as a usable predictive model, However, subsequent research has attempted to \,veight the relative contributions of the various fuctors, and kBlanc et aI. (2OOO) found that musical features accounted for more variation in children's expressed musical preferences, followed by'culture' and finally age (see Chaptet 22 this volume). Hargreaves a al. (2006) developed a fur simas attention and mental processing through to a

to an eclectic mix of music acquired from

friends. Conversely, more musically engaged adults showed strong commitments to musical swles and a sense ofnecessity and urgency about

buying or obtaining music' They expressed a deiail awareness ofthe styles they did and did not like list ning to, and a thorough and explicit understanding ofthe effects that different sryles
of music would have on them.

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change over time, and daily favourites reflect situaiional and emotional'fit' while long-term favourites are more connected to personal life histories (Lamont and Webb in press)' Sloboda et aI. (20O1) also found that greater personal choice was more likely to be associated with positive valued outcomes such as increased irousal, present-mindedness, and positivity' These findings underline the value of researching people's self-chosen uses of music (see also Chapter 40 this volume)'

Personal favourites also

Effects of musical preferences


We next consider the impact that musical preferences can have on other areas of life in two ways. The first relates to the use of anY kind of preferred music to achieve certain non-musical preference for ioals. The second relates to the music. of kinds geafc Pieferred music listening has been shown to be particula effective in achieving physical and psychophysiological goals, such as pain to enhanced -*"gi-"ttt and relief. It leads control over, and effective distraction from' parn-inducing stimuli under laboratory condi iions, when ompared with non-preferred or experimenter-selected music (Mitchell er al' Z0OO; tvtitchell and MacDonald 2006)' Similar effects in reducing pain, anxiery and agitated behaviour have been found both in clinical settings (MacDonald et l.2003; Siedliecki and

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Reflecting on Preferred music


alternative approach

emblematic outward-directed effect of music, such as anthems, as symbols of national, ethnic, or cultural identity (Hammarlund 1990, cited in Folkestad 2002). In multicultural situations, the kind of music someone likes can play a signi6cant role in the proceses ofadjustment to a new culture and retaininglins to the old (Ilari 2006; O'Hagin and Harnish 2006).

people's personalities (Rentfrow and Gosling 2006). This catalytic or self-directed effect of music in identity can be contrasted with the

processes of in-group behaviour and impression management (Finnes 1989; Tanant et al.2oo4). The social ident effect ofmusical preferences in bringing people together operates even when participants are unaware of precisewhat musical preferences the in- and out-groups have (Bagakiannis and Tarrant 200 ). Although specific music often has particular effects on different groups, thes strong effects are more marked in adolescence; young adults are more willing to share and tolerate others'music, and this tolerance increases later in adulthood (Carlton 200 ; Greasley and lamont 200 ). However, even in adulthood, musical preferences can be used in interpersonal perception to give messages about

response, consisting of the interactions between the three broad variables of music, listener, and, situations and conttxts to evoke a gjvea responx.

pler reciprocal feedback model of musical

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research that explores people's own music and the meaning of this to them as individuals' using social constructionist methods such as interviewing and ethnography' From such a perspective, music does not simPly act as a stimulus on an individual, but rattrer its meaning and effects become stabilized through discourse' consumption practice, and patterns of use over time (DeNora 2000). For example, Batt-Rawden and DeNora (20O5) explored the theraPeutic uses of music in everyday life using a unique methodology involving

is articulated

by

Explaining and predicting music pteferences


Although there has been
a great deal ofresearch exploring different facets of musical preference and taste, only two explicit models of music preference (LeBlanc 1982; Hargreaves et al.

Cood zooe; Sung and Chang 2005) and in

chronic pain in everyday life settings (Mitchell et al.2OO7)' Listening to preferred music rather
than experimenter-chosen music or silence produces lower heart rate and perceived exertion 2006), and improves cognitive performance

and fatigue rates (Pothoulaki'and Natsume

in

kBlanc's interactive theory of music preference (1982) is a complex and comprehensive attempt to represent the influence of input

2006) have attempted to tie thes together.

everydaysituations, and the presence or absence ofothers. Both models e)ress a triPartite division between music, listene and contefi as well as a large number ofinteractions both between and within levels of analpis. Howeveg culture should not be treated as a variable but rather as the medium through which all real-life experiences

mood, liking) factors. Finalln situations and contefis include social and cultural contexts,

affected by phpiological (engagement, arousal, active listening)' cognitive (attention, e ctation, discrimination) and affective (emotional,

knowledge, preference and taste, and identity. The listener's respoDse to the music is also

Drawing on experimental aesthetics, musical features include a reference system (genres, styles, etc.), collative variables (complexity, familiarity) and prototypicality. The listener is characterized in terms of individual differences (gender, age, personality) as well as musical

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are mediated (Cole 199 ; Lamont 200 ). The models also saylittle about the outcome ofmusi-

l^o,e,onces

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cal preferences. LeBlanc's preference decision leading to rejection or acceptance (in the latter case resulting in freely chosen repetition and heightened attention) is simply linked back to the fistener's cultural environment and musical stimulus input. Simila, the concept of reciprocal feedback simply argues that listener and music, listener and situation, and situation and music 'interact'.

An approach that prioritizes listeners' own constructions and interpretations of music circumvents some of these problems, and may prove more tuitfrrl in explaining these less stable
ies.

(200 ). The particular Gtegories employed are also like to change rapidly along with changes in musical stylc (Hargreaves aDd North 1999), limiting comparabil between different stud-

Discussion
Musical preferences serve a range of important functions for individuals and groups, and preferred music can play an imponant role in physical and psychological well-being. These clearly go beyond the simple behavioural outcome of
repeated exposure, and have far-reaching effects ranging from the personal to the cultural. While experimental research has addressed

some important questions in relation to our understanding of musical preferences, there still remain many unanswered issues. The complexities lie large in the interactive nature of musical preference. Even a single preference erqrressed

The temporal dimension of preference is another central issue, and while we have highlighted the temporal dimensions of decisionmaking throughout, it is harder to tease out practical implications for a theory of musical preferences. The two models of music preferences reviewed here adopt ver)' different perspectives on temporality: LeBlanc systematically specifies the precise moment of choice but says less about the longer-terrn concomitants ofthat choice, whereas Hargreaves and colleagues attempt to capture longer-term dimensions while rernaining vague about the choices which are being represented. A more considered explanation of the temporal dimension (where preferences originate, are shaped, grow, and die down-in essence, how reciprocal feedback actually works) is still required (cf. Lamont
2006).

elements of musical preferences.

tener, music and context, yet it is such real-life challenges that future research must find better ways of explaining.

munication). This kind of realife engagement with music is not easily explained by inverted U-shapes or artificial distinctions between lis-

to a negative association between the music and the treatment, thus 'spoiling' its potential as a source ofpleasure (Chris Balks, personal com-

Greer RD, Dorow LG md Randall A (1974). Music listening prefaoc of ctemmtar}' shml childr. Jourul of Rewrch il Mwic Hugtion, L 81'29l. Hargrav6 D, (l98)' The effats of repetition on liking fot mtsic. Journal of Resarch in Mwb Huatbn, 32,

Hegreav6 D, (1988). Vabal md behavioural rspons to familia md unfmiliil music. crnnf Psychoiul Rtgr ch and R in s 6' 323-330. Hargrcaves D] md North AC ( 1999). Delopin8 conc Pts
of

3547-

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tal and qualitative, appear rather content-free in terms of the music that is being preferred. Furthermore, the complexity and flexibility in the ways that people categorize and label music is a critical issue for the field. As listeners argue about how particular pieces ofmusic, particu-

experimenter-selected pieces of music is likely to be affected by a host of factors, which will vary from individual to individual and may lead to a range of different outcomes. Attempting to isolate and examine these within a positivist approach can be a daunting and potentially fruitless challenge, which may explain why some of the more successfiil approaches to understanding musical preferences, both experimen-

at a given moment in time between one of two

those preferences, except, perhaps, in situations where the'tick box'approach has validity, such

nificantly about the undering meanings of


as internet dating, cf. Rentfrow and Gosling

styles (Greasley and Lamont 2006), research asking participants to tick boxes of music preference categories is not likely to inform us sig-

Finalln adopting a cultural psychological approach oftreating culture and context more thorougNy as a medium for musical preferences rather than a variable within a model may have the potential to address some ofthe unresolved issues in this eld. Naturalistic and longitudinal methods of enquiry may be more valuable here. For example, interviewing people at home with their music collections (Greasley and Lamont 200 ) enables them to interact with music in a far more contextualized mrnner' encouraging participants to ieflect on the wide range ofinteracting factors influencing preference (see also Batt-Rawden and DeNora 2005). To conclude, the privileged position ofpreferred music in individuals'lives is something that future research needs to be sensitive to. A colleague undergoing chemotherapy told us how she activcly decided aot to bring her favourite music into hospital, despite her specialist's exhortations that it would help alleviate her pain. She was concerned that over time listening to her favourite music in this contextwouldlead

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