If I told you my taste in movies, would you be able to tell me what kind of music I listen to? How about my favorite reading material, or taste in television?
Peter Jason Rentfrow can — and it’s no parlor trick. The Cambridge University psychologist is lead author of a new study that finds a person’s entertainment choices tend to share certain basic characteristics, which may or may not be immediately obvious.
…The highbrow/lowbrow split, which has dominated cultural criticism for the past century or so, remains alive and well: The researchers report most people gravitate toward one dimension or the other. But Rentfrow and his colleagues also identified an area of common ground. (Hint: It’s occupied by Oprah).
…After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that people’s aesthetic tastes can be broken down into five “entertainment-preference dimensions.” They are: Aesthetic (which includes classical music, art films and poetry), cerebral (current events, documentaries), communal (romantic comedies, pop music, daytime talk shows), dark (heavy metal music, horror movies) and thrilling (action-adventure films, thrillers, science fiction). The first two fall under the general heading of highbrow, while the final three are labeled lowbrow.
…For instance, “individuals who enjoy the aesthetic entertainment factor, which may be regarded as abstract, dense and demanding, tend to be creative, calm, introspective and in touch with their emotions,” they write. Those who are drawn to dark entertainment genres tended to rate high on intellect and extraversion, but low on conscientiousness and agreeableness; they “may generally see themselves as defiant, reckless and immodest.”
In contrast, “It appears as though the psychological characteristics most central to individuals who prefer the communal entertainment factor are rather similar to the defining characteristics of that factor: pleasant, lighthearted, unadventurous, uncomplicated and relationship-oriented,” the researchers add.
I seem to be split between highbrow and lowbrow, with my enjoyment of watching professional soccer being the only thing I can think of that would qualify as communal taste. But I’m a little skeptical that there’s much of a common thread to be found between movies and music by Rob Zombie on the one hand, and the complete works of Mozart on the other. Or, to use an example from a recent post, books by Isaiah Berlin versus escapist fantasy novels. And where does an exceptional TV show like The Wire fall within this framework? Even Amazon can give suggestions based on individual purchases as to similar music, books or movies you might like, but this seems to suggest there’s a way to find deeper connections between tastes despite what seem to be wildly disparate surface appearances.