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Music Linked to Values

The Sound of Morality

Music Linked to Moral Values

By John Salak –

Look no further than someone’s musical preferences to get a handle on their moral compass. That’s the advice coming from a couple of European institutions. 

A joint study by Queen Mary University of London and the ISI Foundation in Turin, Italy, has uncovered what the researchers describe as “a remarkable connection” between individuals’ musical preferences and their moral values. The findings also open up the possibility that music may go beyond simply reflecting someone’s moral foundation. It may be applied to help shape a person’s moral compass. 

“Our study provides compelling evidence that music preferences can serve as a window into an individual’s moral values,” stated Dr. Charalampos Saitis, one of the study’s senior authors and a lecturer at Queen Mary.

The study leveraged machine learning techniques to analyze the lyrics and audio features of individuals’ favorite songs, revealing a complex interplay between music and morality. It specifically relied on an existing dataset of over 1,400 participants who completed psychometric questionnaires assessing their moral values and provided information about their favorite artists through Facebook Page Likes. 

The researchers then extracted acoustic and lyrical features from the top five songs of each participant’s preferred artists. Machine learning ML algorithms were then used to analyze the extracted features to predict participants’ moral values. 

Beyond this, various text processing techniques, including lexicon-based methods and BERT-based embeddings, were employed to get a reading of the narrative, moral values, sentiment and emotions in lyrics. Additional techniques were used to understand encoded information in participants’ musical choices, enhancing moral inferences.

Ultimately, the researchers discovered that a combination of lyrical and audio features outperformed basic demographic information in predicting individuals’ moral foundation. Musical elements like pitch and timbre emerged as crucial predictors for values of care and fairness, while sentiments and emotions expressed in lyrics were more effective in predicting traits of loyalty, authority and purity.

“Our findings reveal that music is not merely a source of entertainment or aesthetic pleasure, it is also a powerful medium that reflects and shapes our moral sensibilities,” explained lead author Vjosa Preniqi, a Ph.D. student at Queen Mary. “By understanding this connection, we can open up new avenues for music-based interventions that promote positive moral development.”

The researchers were quick to note that their findings offered up more than mere academic curiosity. They hold the potential to impact how we engage with and utilize music in diverse aspects of life. 

“Our breakthrough can pave the way for applications ranging from personalized music experiences to innovative music therapy and communication campaigns,” said Dr Kyriaki Kalimeri, the study’s senior co-author and a researcher at ISI Foundation.

Additional related research is now being explored, but these initial findings have paved the way for new insights into the power of music. 

“Our research has uncovered an important link between music and morality, paving the way for a deeper understanding of the psychological dimensions of our musical experiences,” concluded Vjosa Preniqi. 





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