A new study published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, has found a correlation between intelligence and a preference for instrumental music.

In their paper Intelligence, music preferences, and uses of music from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, researchers Elena Račevska, a PhD student from Oxford Brookes University, and Meri Tadinac from the University of Zagreb, combined “the approaches of evolutionary and social psychology to investigate the relationship between intelligence, music preferences, and uses of music,” collecting data from 467 Croatian high school students.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra, David RobertsonDavid Robertson and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Christie Brewster

“I first became interested in this topic while working on a project looking into the relationship between personality traits and musical preferences,” Račevska told PsyPost. “At the time, I was studying evolutionary psychology and became familiar with Satoshi Kanazawa’s Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis.”

“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,” she said. “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.”

“We found intelligence to be a significant predictor of the preference for instrumental music, but not of the preference for vocal-instrumental music,” the researchers wrote in their paper, with instrumental genres preferred including ambient electronica, big band music and classical music. The study also found that those participants who used music ‘cognitively’, for example, analysing its construction, generally preferred instrumental music.

The study lays groundwork for further research that could be undertaken in this area. “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,” Račevska told PsyPost, suggesting that further studies could focus on other variables including developmental stages in life, the effects of societal pressures and peer relationships and culturally specific ways of experiencing music.