You wouldn’t immediately assume your musical preferences and your drive to maximize could be related to some underlying brain chemistry. However, according to the controversial Empathizing-Systemizing Theory, they very well could be.
Even though I don’t agree with everything about the E-S Theory (including the "extreme male brain" theory of autism), I do think it provides an overlooked framework for exploring different personalities.
As a result, this merging of unlikely subject matter is meant to be hypothetical while providing some thought-provoking connections.
Music and Blossoming Social Skills
To start, I’d like to provide a summary of one of my favorite academic articles about music and mental health.
This peer-reviewed article begins by discussing how biological brain differences can lead to different preferences in music. The researchers theorized that differences regarding empathizing and systemizing lead people to have different favorite artists and conducted a qualitative study.
In this study, people with autistic traits (those with sensory sensitivities, obsessive interests, and a literal-based cognitive style) were especially interviewed about their take on melodies, rhythms, favorite composers, etc.
As predicted, different empathizing and systemizing quotients in various individuals largely determined their musical preferences. Songs like “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley and “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones were associated with empathizing while The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana were associated with systemizing.
How Can This Information Help People?
The researchers used the results reported by the people in the study to show how music and empathy are connected in unexpected ways in high-systemizing populations.
For example, the study found people with autistic traits first listen to music because of its systemizing aspects; for example, patterns, inter-related parts, and the math present in music theory. Then these individuals use the music to relate to aspects of themselves for emotional reasons; helping them self-reflect in a way not possible without the music or lyrics. Interestingly enough, research has shown musical interaction within a group increases empathy further.
In the case of musical interaction, imagine a small group of people who struggle socially brought together over their narrow interest in music and required to problem-solve in order to create a band. Consequently, their social skills improve as they are interacting over their primary interest - music. They may even develop a pseudo-love for their fellow bandmates in proportion to the capabilities of those bandmates to embody their true love (the music itself). Interdependency is necessary and friendship results (hopefully).
Does This Remind You of Anything You Have Observed in Blogging Communities?
If so, that’s OK.
While I’m not entirely sure what to think of this phenomenon (and it’s a little robotic to think of relationships this way), I have certainly seen the above situation permeate my musical experiences. At one time, I found it difficult to find friendships outside the realm of my narrow interests. Then I studied my experiences through the lens of systemizing and realized what was going on.
In order to have a satisfactory social life, I started making the effort to be a little more open-minded when a neighbor or acquaintance was interested in something different than me (like playing sports). Beyond the enjoyment aspect, I found diverse experiences socializing are worth the effort because they lead to more creative thinking and less rigidity.
Research proves having a variety of life experiences can lead to more creative approaches. It's no surprise that diverse people will lead you to those diverse life experiences.
In essence, according to the article, music acts as an effective medium for those with social struggles who wish to communicate emotions, thoughts, ideas, and experiences. The authors concluded this theoretical study arguing that more research should take place to gain a better understanding of how music-related phenomena can guide social understandings, increase reflection, and increase empathetic functioning.
Personal Finance Connections
Listening to music can increase empathy in a wide variety of people, especially those high in systemizing.
As a result, it’s worth asking if people naturally drawn to numbers go through a similar experience when reporting their financial stories through the act of writing.
Are you going through a similar experience as the above-mentioned obsessive musicians? Are you benefiting socially and emotionally from the process of indulging in your systemizing and interacting with other systemizers online?
If you are interested, you can learn more about systemizing and find your E-S quotient by taking a survey at the bottom of this article.