April 13, 2013

Big Five Factors of entertainment tastes

Charles Spearman was one of the pioneers of factor analysis, a statistical technique for looking at what correlates with what and then trying to name the smaller number of underlying factors that emerge. He used it to come up with the g Factor theory of intelligence way back in 1904. Factor analysis is an interesting combination of objective and subjective, because the final step of giving names to the most important underlying structures is a creative one.

Here's a study looking at the top five factors in entertainment tastes.
Listening, Watching, and Reading: The Structure and Correlates of Entertainment Preferences 
Peter J. Rentfrow, Lewis R. Goldberg, and Ran Zilca 
The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at J Pers 
People spend considerable amounts of time and money listening to music, watching TV and movies, and reading books and magazines, yet almost no attention in psychology has been devoted to understanding individual differences in preferences for such entertainment. The present research was designed to examine the structure and correlates of entertainment genre preferences. Analyses of the genre preferences of over 3,000 individuals revealed a remarkably clear factor structure. Using multiple samples, methods, and geographic regions, data converged to reveal five entertainment-preference dimensions: Communal, Aesthetic, Dark, Thrilling, and Cerebral. Preferences for these entertainment dimensions were uniquely related to demographics and personality traits. Results also indicated that personality accounted for significant proportions of variance in entertainment preferences over and above demographics. The results provide a foundation for developing and testing hypotheses about the psychology of entertainment preferences.

Staffan's Personality Blog summarizes:
Next, they did their statistical mojo in which correlations between all the 108 genres were compared to see if they clustered into any separate factors, which they did. The major divide was found between what the researchers, surprisingly politically incorrect called Highbrow and Lowbrow. Furthermore Highbrow turned out to consist of two separate factors, named Aesthetic and Cerebral where as Lowbrow was made up of three factors called Communal, Dark and Thrilling for a total of five factors – two fancy and three folksy. To get a general idea of what these factors look like here are some of the major items in each of them,
Highbrow 
Aesthetic – classical music, arts and humanities TV shows, art books, opera music, foreign film, classic films, folk music, world music, philosophy books 
Cerebral – business books, news and current events TV shows and books, educational TV shows, reference books, computer books, documentary films, science TV shows 
Lowbrow 
Communal – romance films, romance books, daytime talk shows, made-for- TV movies, soap operas, reality shows, pop music 
Dark – horror movies, heavy metal music, rap and hip hop, alternative music, erotic movies, erotic literature, cult movies 
Thrilling – action movies, thriller and espionage books, spy shows, science fiction TV shows, films and books, suspense movies, war movies

The name "communal" was chosen to distinguish it from the other two lowbrow factors, which cluster together to form a "rebellious" grouping. "Communal" could probably better be entitled "Relationship" entertainment aimed at women who are most interested in personal relationships.

The Cerebral factor might better be named "Informative." It sounds a lot like entertainment for what I call Frequent Flyers: people with management and technical jobs who travel a lot on business and like information. James Michener rather than John Updike. (My favorite Updike novel is The Coup, which imparts a Michener-worthy load of information about Africa in Updike's deliriously aesthetic style.) Airport bookstores and newsstands cater to their interests. Humorist Dave Barry, who is from Armonk, NY, home of IBM, is the poet laureate of Frequent Flyers. 

It would be interesting to drill down further within this group to see if the nerds and managers can be distinguished. Adding sports would help. Management types tend to like to play team sports and watch spectator sports. Nerds are less interested in watching sports and are more interested in less structured outdoor activities, such as, say, kayaking.

25 comments:

Mr. Anon said...

I would not refer to many management and current events books as "cerebral". Obnoxious loudmouths like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly write books (or at least "write" books). These are not cerebral; they are soon-to-be-fogotten middle-brow trash.

Karen said...

This may be useful for music and possibly movies, but it's not worth anything for books. According to this, crap like "Who Moved My Cheese" and "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" are "Cerebral" and therefore highbrow, while "Wuthering Heights," the Sherlock Holmes novels, and all of Jane Austen and Bram Stoker are either "Dark" or "Communal" and therefore lowbrow. How does he file detective novels, which are the go-to fiction for managers? Is the "Iliad" Dark or Thrilling?

Seriously, how is this useful? Genre fiction can be excellent and science books written with the skill of a dyslexic gorilla. In his own time, Shakespeare was considered middle-brow and his audience was the Elizabethan version of soccer thugs. (The nobility watched him, too, but so did everybody else.) Some genres at present don't have very may good works included in them, but that doesn't mean that talented artists won't improve that in the future.

agnostic said...

Genre preferences are neat to look at, but I don't think we've learned anything we didn't already know.

It'd be better to look at preferences for individual works. With genres, it's like asking people what subjects they prefer taking in school -- that's going to correlate pretty well with IQ and its sub-factors.

But the basic construct of IQ came from giving the subjects a wide variety of questions that probed their intelligence.

So throw a hundred different paintings or pop songs at them and ask for a simple "yay or nay." See what clusters with what.

The genre level is too simplistic. You've got people who like Da Vinci and Caravaggio in the same "Aesthetic" group, and people who like boring and thrilling action movies in the same "Thrilling" group.

We need more study of the factors within aesthetic preferences, not genre preferences. Minimal or decent ornamentation, drawn-out or making an impact, contemplative or immediate, etc.

Anonymous said...

I'd put alternative music into the highbrow category.

Aging Nag said...

O/T, neuroscientist Doreen Kimura died.

Old Odd Jobs said...

Karen said it all, really.

Old Odd Jobs said...

These "five factors" are hopelessly subjective.

What exactly can one learn from these necessarily arbitrary divisions of taste?

Is this science, or anything like it?

Anonymous said...

The highbrow/lowbrow dichotomy seems to be one of striving, bourgeois dullards and proles who might be fun to be around.

Anonymous said...

Also, despite the obvious, why is rap "dark?" Did some researcher listen to a Geto Boys album?

Cail Corishev said...

So throw a hundred different paintings or pop songs at them and ask for a simple "yay or nay." See what clusters with what.

The genre level is too simplistic. You've got people who like Da Vinci and Caravaggio in the same "Aesthetic" group, and people who like boring and thrilling action movies in the same "Thrilling" group.


There have been some attempts to do this. One site (defunct now, I think) was trying to do it with books, matching people's preferences up to try to predict what else they would like. So if I like A, B, and C, and you like A and B, you're more likely than most to like C; that kind of thing.

Companies like Netflix and Facebook try to predict preferences, but it doesn't seem very sophisticated yet. If I watch a movie on Netflix, it mostly offers me other movies obviously in the same genre or featuring the same star or director. Very rarely does it suggest something non-obvious that I turn out to like, and I'd imagine that's the really difficult part. (It seems especially bad at figuring out what I don't like.)

I mean, if I mostly watch sci-fi movies, but I also gave 5 stars to Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, does that mean that movie would appeal to other sci-fi fans? Or does it just mean I have a thing for pre-liberal-mouthpiece Janeane Garofalo? There are a lot of variables that go into that kind of thing, but it does seem like better predictions could be made once they have a decent corpus of data.

Anonyia said...

I don't understand lumping heavy metal in with rap music. Also do not understand lumping science fiction with thriller and espionage genres. Science fiction has more in common with "dark" horror than anything else. And to which category does the fantasy genre belong?

I agree with agnostic: we need more studies of aesthetic preferences, not genre tastes.

Greg said...

To those asking why X is grouped with Y?

It wasn't really the researchers choice. A factor analysis algorithm made the choice for them. The choice they had was labeling the groups.

Statistical analysis showed that people who liked horror movies tend to also like heavy metal, rap, alternative and porn. And vice versa.

Anonymous said...

How is folk music, (if it really is "folk") be highbrow?
Does world music really mean anything?

Edward Cefala said...

The list ignores comedy. It also leaves out the crossover appeal of combat films featuring albinos and Next Level genres such as all-midget tableaus vivant..

Anonymous said...

People who like rap like heavy metal? Ok...

Anonymous said...

>'People who like rap like heavy metal? Ok...'

Every white guy I know likes rap and heavy metal.LOUD NOISE. DUMB FUN. It's a twofer!

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Does world music really mean anything?"

It's music that you don't like but that a girl with hipster glasses who listens to NPR does.

Mr. Anon said...

"Karen said...

This may be useful for music and possibly movies, but it's not worth anything for books. According to this, crap like "Who Moved My Cheese" and "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" are "Cerebral" and therefore highbrow,...."

Well said. If that awful, stupid cheese-book is high-brow, then the term has no meaning. One may as well class "Hee-Haw" as high-brow.

Auntie Analogue said...


Wonderful! According to this taxonomy I'm a perfect Highbrow blend of the Aesthetic and Cerebral. But I already knew that, just never expressed it in those terms.

I also think that the Lowbrow Thrilling category should include conspiracy theorists and conspiracy theory addicts.

Anonymous said...

"Every white guy I know likes rap and heavy metal.LOUD NOISE. DUMB FUN. It's a twofer!"

Check the big brain on this guy.

Whiskey said...

Where does Jazz fit in? Its hugely popular, but mostly with Upper Class Whites. Where do motor sports fit in? NASCAR != F1. Or history, you can have populist stuff like David McCullough and Stephen Ambrose and more scholarly stuff like "Albion's Seed."

Most people combine these tastes. Well, most Whites at least. Who have more diverse tastes and desires even among classes than other races. Indeed the internet and cable fracture tastes and allow ala carte consumption of all sorts of upper class and lower class entertainment: trashy reality shows and Opera. Jazz and Adam Sandler comedies.

Anonymous said...

[strike]Highbrow[/strike] Bourgeois pre-occupations

[strike]Aesthetic[/strike] staus-mongering/conspicous consumption – classical music, arts and humanities TV shows, art books, opera music, foreign film, classic films, folk music, world music, philosophy books

[strike]Cerebral[/strike] preoccupation with cheating and not being cheated, I do not know the name of this basic human instinct; and would appreciate any suggestions; getting ahead (money/status) by knowing more – business books, news and current events TV shows and books, educational TV shows, reference books, computer books, documentary films, science TV shows

[strike]Lowbrow[/strike] Demographic groups, Everyone else

[strike]Communal[strike] Sailer already pointed out. relationships. Women – romance films, romance books, daytime talk shows, made-for- TV movies, soap operas, reality shows, pop music

[strike]Dark[/strike] Rebellion, Transgression. Adolescents – horror movies, heavy metal music, rap and hip hop, alternative music, erotic movies, erotic literature, cult movies

Thrilling Actually this term not bad. Death, organized violence, interspecies aggression (a la konrad lorenz) Males of reproductive age. – action movies, thriller and espionage books, spy shows, science fiction TV shows, films and books, suspense movies, war movies
Most scifi, by volume, are war movies [...IN SPACE!] Star wars, star trek, dune, galactica, terminator etc.


What is conspicuously missing altogether? Kids entertainment. I guess that didn't fit in their false dichotomy.

Also, spectator sports. But, I am going out on a limb, and say WW2 movie fans also like to watch superbowl.

Anonymous said...

The average reader of "Who Moved My Cheese" wouldn't even understand the concepts in Neal Stephenson's spec-fic novels.

nooffensebut said...

Every genre has its lowbrow contingent. Women are particularly adept at commercializing, trivializing, and ruining once vital art forms. (See Gwen Stefani.)

The authors of the study have since applied the MUSIC (mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, contemporary) model and say that "genre categories themselves are neither logically constructed nor coherent."

Anonymous said...

I don't know what is the point of a study like this.

NPR often features interviews with low brow filmmakers and actors.
People at Harvard who take classes in Shakespeare also love video games and movies like Fast and Furious--and indeed most people in Hollywood who work on 'low brow' movies have elite backgrounds.

So, one's culturality is determined less by what one likes/enjoys than that he what he doesn't like/enjoy.

Everyone loves all sorts of pop culture. But not everyone likes classical music.

In the past, you could understand something about someone by what he liked. Now, we must look to what he doesn't like.