More intelligent individuals are more likely to enjoy instrumental music, study finds

New research published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences provides additional evidence that more intelligent individuals are more likely to prefer instrumental music.

“I first became interested in this topic while working on a project looking into the relationship between personality traits and musical preferences. At the time, I was studying evolutionary psychology and became familiar with Satoshi Kanazawa’s Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis,” said study author Elena Racevska, a PhD student at Oxford Brookes University.

According to the hypothesis, intelligence evolved as a way to deal with new and unfamiliar things — resulting in more intelligent individuals having a greater preference for novel stimuli than less intelligent individuals.

“After reading Kanazawa’s papers, one of which was on the relationship between intelligence and musical preferences, we decided to further test his hypothesis using a different set of predictors — namely, a different type of intelligence test (i.e. a nonverbal measure), and the uses of music questionnaire,” Racevska explained.

“We also measured a number of variables likely to have an effect in this relationship, such as taking part in extra-curricular music education, its type and duration.”

The study of 467 Croatian high school students found that higher scores on the intelligence test were associated with a preference for instrumental music, including ambient/chill out electronica, big band jazz, and classical music.

“From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, intelligence can only predict differences in the preference for instrumental music. Individuals with higher intelligence test scores are more likely to prefer predominantly instrumental music styles, but there are no differences in the preference for predominantly vocal or vocal-instrumental music that can be predicted with intelligence test scores,” Racevska told PsyPost.

The researchers also found that participants used different genres of music for different reasons. For example, those who reported using music cognitively, such as finding enjoyment in analyzing compositions or admiring musical technique, tended to be more fond of instrumental music.

But the study — like all research — include some limitations.

“Intelligence is only one of the constructs connected to musical preferences, there are many others, such as personality traits, gender, age, degree of education, and family income,” Racevska said.

“Future studies could focus on untangling the relationship between complexity and novelty in shaping preferences — complexity of vocalisation is preferred by many species, which could mean that it is evolutionarily familiar.”

“It would also be wonderful to conduct a longitudinal study of how musical preferences change throughout developmental stages of the human life, and how they interact with numerous social and personal variables, such as societal pressures and peer relationships. A cross-cultural study could examine and control for influences of culturally specific ways of experiencing music, and other music-related behaviours,” Racevska added.

The study, “Intelligence, Music Preferences, and Uses of Music From the Perspective of Evolutionary Psychology“, was authored by Elena Rańćevska and Meri Tadinac.