Music Signals Status

Seventy participants were asked to rate photos of eight individuals (four males and four females). … More positive traits were attributed to females, high-status looking individuals and individuals with a preference for high-status music. … Liking for low-status music lowered evaluations in high-status looking individuals, but liking for high-status music did not affect evaluations of low status looking individuals. Participants’ own musical preference did not consistently affect ratings of photographed individuals. …

Participants rated individuals who like classical and jazz music as possessing significantly more positive traits, such as educated, rational and intelligent, than negative traits, such as aggressive, ruthless and hostile. … Liking for rock–pop, trance, oriental (Arab) and oriental pop music was associated with more negative traits. (more; HT Eric Barker)

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  • Kutta

    Corollary: if you want to look for people who can recommend you good art, look for those whose preferences and tastes cannot be compactly mapped to status boundaries. E.g. a classical musician with a fondness for extreme metal.

  • robertk

    The study was done in Israel – I wonder if the ratings for oriental music would be different in the states.

  • David

    I suspect the data in that paper is very Israel-specific, and probably also age group specific. Within my peer group, declaring that you like classical and jazz outs you as an uncreative twit who went to grad school in a desperate effort to finally please your father. For us, displaying deep and obscure knowledge about (any) music is seen as much more valuable than just associating yourself with a certain style. But really, music fandom is such an important source of social signaling that you can communicate a lot through the music you like besides just rationality and intelligence. There are also orthogonal axes like adventurousness, self-reflection, openness and many other traits. When you get good at this, you get a pretty good idea about a person from just a list of artists. This is one reason why bands sell so many t-shirts and why singles sites always ask about musicians you like. (The same goes for movies, btw.)

    The thing is that people see the signaling value of musician association, and because association is easy, there is an incentive to “fake” a love for music with a perceived high value. This is why music fans so rabidly try to distinguish the true fans from the posers – the people who are trying to merely elevate their reputation associating with a musical style. Too many posers who flock to valuable genre G dilute the value for a true fan’s association with G, because by definition, posers don’t deserve the esteem boost from G, and the true fans who do can be hard for others to distinguish from posers. The resulting uncertainty makes others reduce the esteem for someone’s association with G.

    And fickle young people always try to seek out and genuinely grow to like a genre that truly does increase their worth in the eyes of others, and is not (yet) polluted by posers.

    • anon

      “This is why music fans so rabidly try to distinguish the true fans from the posers”

      Unfortunately, you’re quite wrong. The contempt for “posers” is really a matter of ingroup-outgroup mentality. If you’re a “true fan” of G, you are in the G tribe and others are not. So the “true fans” of G get to decide who can join the tribe, and everyone else who tries to associate with G has to be shunned as a “poser”.

      It’s quite ugly, and it has nothing to do with elevating your “reputation”, apart from the very small group of G “true fans” and its allied tribes of fans of H, I and J.

      • David

        You can ignore the data if you like, but that does not make you right. And it’s not just this research; there is plenty of evidence that associating yourself with a certain kind of music affects the way a person is esteemed by the culture as a whole. And insofar as esteem is something we seek and association is easy, there will inevitably be people who associate themselves with high value music simply for general esteem that this brings them. But any social scientists knows that there is no stable source of free esteem; you have to work for it. That’s why you need to show that you earned the esteem from the high-value taste you profess. The inexplicable mistake you make is in thinking that the effect works on only small groups, in blatant contradiction to the evidence from the linked article. Yes, there are groups involved, because we disproportionately value the esteem of peers over grandma’s canasta friends. Still, even large undifferentiated groups clearly vary their esteem based on the tastes of individuals.

        I’d love to see a study of our estimation of posers. So suppose you’re looking at a picture of a face, and you’re told that this person pretends around friends to like classical or post-punk or rockabilly or jazz (but actually doesn’t like the stuff). I bet these people would be judged far more harshly than someone who pretends to like classic rock, emo, blues or hip hop.

      • File this news under: High culture signals high culture.

    • dave

      “For us, displaying deep and obscure knowledge about (any) music is seen as much more valuable than just associating yourself with a certain style. ”

      So basically, this whole post “outs” you as a hipster d-bag?

  • Linda Gottfredson says that a well-informed love of classical music in an audlt is one of the single most reliable one-data point indicators that a person does not have an IQ below 100.

    • Classical music literacy and appreciation is like Mensa -I think it’s more of a tell of lack of jedi level social skills than high IQ for most who use it.

    • David

      That simply must be wrong. A well-informed love of topology, or even of chess or existentialist literature, are certainly much more reliable. Isn’t classical music love more of an indicator of social class than of any intrinsic intellectual talent?

      • well, let’s just go straight to the trump. A well-informed love of quantum computing or the computer game Civilization (those predict what, an IQ over 140? 160?

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  • Punk rock is anger’s schmaltz, a detailed review of Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk about Love, in which a music critic examines the nature of taste, and discovers that there’s much of interest and something to like about Celine Dion’s music.

  • This is interesting because there’s a large literature in sociology (to which I’ve contributed) on the association of musical taste and social class. The Ur-cite is Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, more recent work has been based on the SPPA and GSS93 as well as several European/Israeli surveys. One of the big findings in this literature, often called the “omnivore hypothesis,” is that it in post-1950 birth cohorts very few people are high culture snobs but rather the most common pattern among college-educated people is “omnivorousness” or an embrace of a variety of both high and pop culture. Similarly, Anita Elberse is working from a different tradition but comes to similar conclusions in her work with movie rental data. The literature I’m referring to doesn’t assess how others perceive such taste patterns, only how common they are and what their class correlates are.

    • matches my intuition.

    • The “Highbrow Middlebrow Lowbrow” article in Harper’s is a good example of how that can change over time. Some of its creator’s reflections on it here, along with a reference to that Dion book mentioned above.

    • Lemmy Caution

      That is interesting about the “omnivore hypothesis”. This paper says that US high status music consumption patterns are less snobby than french high status music consumption patterns:

      Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk about Love is a good book that is worth reading.

  • JB

    Robin, your only comment on this post is the title of the post. Can you comment further? Are you surprised by this? Don’t you think the same holds true with say TV shows? People that like “Two and a Half men” would be rated differently than people that liked “Nova”. Or books? People that like Danielle Steele or John Grisham rated differently than people that like David Foster Wallace or James Joyce? Or comedians? Or movie genres? Or debt/income level? Or Hairstyle? Or fashion sense? etc…

  • Michael Vassar once Status makes people effectively stupid as it makes it harder for them to update their public positions without feeling that they are losing face. .To the extent that status does in fact make people stupid this is a rather important phenomenon for a society like ours in which practically all decisions and beliefs pass through the hands of very-high-status individuals a high cognitive Gini coefficient ..Does status actually make people stupid? I do have a definite and strong impression with respect to many high-status individuals that it would have been a lot easier to have an intelligent conversation with them if Id approached them before they made it big.

  • This painting jumped out at me from a recent Sullivan blog post as an example of highbrow art without a barrier aesthetic component.

    I don’t know the highbrow bonafides of John Williams’ orchestrations, but I think they’d be a classical equivalent.

    … I just returned from some google searching and reading his wikipedia, still don’t know how John Williams is regarded by highbrow but I think there’s no barrier aesthetic element to the original Star Wars score, and I haven’t found serious highbrow disavowals of it.

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