When it comes to music, are you someone who enjoys the general sound more, or do you prefer lyrics? Maybe you like both an equal amount and want a well-rounded, perfectly balanced auditory experience. While it's certainly no surprise that we tend to enjoy songs we relate to (perhaps they help us feel less alone in our struggles or lend us strength when we need it most), the lyrics and narrative of the songs we love says a lot more about us than we might originally think.
A study has shown that you can figure out someone's romantic attachment style based solely on the songs they listen to—specifically by paying attention to the lyrics. Is this phenomenon good for our hearts, though? Can we find true solace in romantic struggles through others' music?
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Think About Your Favorite Songs
When you think of these songs, take note of a few things. Do they have anything in common? Perhaps a similar vibe or energy? Maybe they're connected to cherished memories or important times in your life. What about the lyrics, are these songs all very thematically similar?
It turns out that the songs we favor can say a lot about us. Sure, someone's preferred musical genre can point to broad personality traits, but it goes much deeper than that. Reflecting on the music you like can even help you learn more about yourself.
Especially Your Attachment Style
A study from the University of Toronto states that the lyrical contents of someone's favorite songs can reveal their attachment styles in relationships.
Ravin Alaei, a Ph.D. graduate from the school's Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science and one of the researchers who conducted the study, explained his motivation as such, "I'm interested in the role music plays in people’s lives. Since humans started making music tens of thousands of years ago, songs across cultures have always focused on relationships—getting into one, maintaining one or breaking up—so I wondered, do people listen to music that mirrors their experiences in relationships?"
The Answer Is Yes
Alaei's findings, as well as the study's other authors Nicholas O. Rule and Geoff MacDonald, were that people typically returned to music that reflected what was happening in their love life, for better or worse.
It makes sense, too. There's always been that trope of listening to sad breakup songs to help you get through a breakup of your own. Think back on your own relationships and music taste...when were you listening to songs about being in love the most? When were you listening to songs about struggling relationships? Can you see any correlation in your own experiences?
It Goes Much Deeper
Not only do your tunes reflect where you are romantically, but the lyrical content can identify precisely how you are in relationships.
One of the team's other findings was that people preferred songs that lined up with their personal attachment style. Alaei had four categorical attachment styles in this study, including anxious, avoidant, mixed, and secure.
A quick rundown on these categories: anxiously attached people seek lots of reassurance and fear rejection; avoidantly-attached people have a tendency to close themselves away from their partners when upset; those with mixed attachment styles have highly fluctuating expectations and behaviors toward their partners; and finally, secure attachment styles are marked by the person's hopeful outlook on their relationships and open communication.
Your Music Taste Broadcasts Your Attachment Style
"We asked about 570 people to tell us their favorite songs, and then coded the nearly 7,000 songs for the attachment style that their lyrics expressed. In turn, we consistently found that avoidantly attached people prefer music with avoidant lyrics," Alaei explained.
"I expected to see a clear relationship between anxiously attached people and anxious songs because they are the most emotional, but surprisingly, this was the most tenuous result."
More Than A Personal Trend
Alaei and his partners took this experiment further. In a second study, the team looked at over 800 Billboard top hits from 1946 to 2015, analyzing the lyrics and determining their themes. It turns out that lyrics in hit songs have also become more representative of avoidant attachment style over time.
"Popular music lyrics are running parallel to sociological trends of social disconnection—people valuing independence over reliance on others, and feeling more isolated."
The Next Step
To further this line of study, Alaei next wants to look into how listening to music that reflects our own relationships affects us.
Knowing one's own attachment style can help in recognizing whether the songs your listening to are harmful or not. As Alaei explains, "As an anxious person, you should recognize that you're vulnerable to a negative feedback loop, and your emotions snowballing. Music can be a very powerful exacerbator of that because it can stimulate deep emotions and memories, ultimately reinforcing your worries."
Worried Your Music Is Making Things Worse?
Alaei has advice for that too. To understand whether a song's perspective is doing more harm than good, he suggests, "Listen to the song a few times to help you process what you're going through and express your thoughts and feelings.
You can decide whether listening to songs that reflect your experiences back at you is either helping you or reinforcing destructive behaviors for yourself. At some point, you may find it more productive to listen to music that provides a sense of security."
Are These Songs In Your Playlist?
Alaei's team noted a few examples of popular songs among each attachment style. Maybe you'll recognize a few from your own musical rotation.
Some songs popular with avoidants were N'Sync's 'Bye Bye Bye', 'Billie Jean' by Michael Jackson, 'Scrubs' by TLC, and 'The Hills; Heartless' by The Weeknd.
For anxious attachment, there was Adele's 'Someone Like You' and 'Hello', 'Hotline Bling' by Drake, and 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police.
Those with mixed attachment styles had 'Before He Cheats' by Carrie Underwood, Bonnie Raitt's 'I Can't Make You Love Me', and Gotye's 'Somebody That I Used to Know'.
Finally, people with secure attachment styles had 'Love Me Do' by The Beatles, 'Wouldn't It By Nice' by The Beach Boys, 'Haven't Met You Yet' by Michael Bublé, and 'I Got You Babe' by Sonny & Cher, a song Alaei said is "pretty much a manual on how to be securely attached."
The Art Of Self-Expression
We are always expressing our innermost selves outwards for the world to see, even in ways we're not even conscious of. It's beautiful, our innate desire to be known and understood deeper. Many people already consider music to be a blessing in their lives, and we can certainly all point to one song that's had an impact on us, so the fact that we use this medium to further represent the core parts of us proves that we all contain the capacity for creative expression!
We're all drawn to art of various forms as a way of projecting, processing, and protecting our feelings. Not only do our tastes in things like music help others learn more about us, but they also help us learn about ourselves, which is always a worthwhile pursuit.