Disliking Music: What’s the Point?

Summary: A new study explores music aversion, finding musical dislike may facilitate identity expression and help demarcate social groups.

Source: Max Planck Institute

So, a metal head shows up at a techno party… pretty unlikely, right? Right. Disliking certain kinds of music is just as constitutive of personal taste as is liking other kinds; and because it influences music-related behavior, this has consequences for our everyday lives.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, have now investigated some of the possible reasons why people dislike music.

Their study has just appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.

With very few exceptions, previous research on musical taste has focused on preferences for certain kinds of music. Now, for the first time, a team of scientists has explicitly investigated musical aversion. In extensive interviews with 21 participants representing five age groups, they discovered the specific reasons for their individual dislikes.

“The most often mentioned type of dislike was musical style, followed by artist and genre,” explains senior author Julia Merrill. “When we looked more closely at the participants’ rationales, we were able to identify five main reference points for describing musical dislikes: the music itself, lyrics, performance, artist, and the people who listen to it.”

The researchers assigned these rationales to three categories: first, object-related reasons, such as music composition or lyrics; second, subject-related reasons, such as emotional or bodily effects or discrepancies with self-image; and third, social reasons, which pertain to an individual’s social environment and taste judgments common to it (in-group) or to other groups to which an individual does not feel part of (out-group).

This shows a man covering his ears and screaming
Disliking certain kinds of music is crucial to personal taste. Credit: MPI for Empirical Aesthetics

Apart from the reasons for disliking music, participants described specific reactions they have when confronted with music they dislike. These included emotional, bodily, and social reactions, ranging from leaving the room to breaking off social contact.

While earlier research has shown that musical aversion has important social functions, this study expands the range of rationales to include music-related and personal reasons. Musical dislikes may, for instance, serve to maintain a good mood, facilitate identity expression, or help demarcate a social group. In this way, they fulfill similar functions as musical preferences, but are expressed less openly and more indirectly.

About this music and neuroscience research news

Author: Ina Wittmann
Source: Max Planck Institute
Contact: Ina Wittmann – Max Planck Institute
Image: The image is credited to MPI for Empirical Aesthetics

Original Research: Open access.
Rationales and functions of disliked music: An in-depth interview study” by Julia Merrill et al. PLOS ONE


Rationales and functions of disliked music: An in-depth interview study

Background and objectives

With a few exceptions, musical taste has been researched via likes or preferences of certain types of music. The present study focuses on disliked music and takes a broad approach to cover explanatory strategies related to personal dislikes.


In-depth interviews were conducted with 21 participants in five age groups. Interviewees were asked to prepare a list of their disliked music, and for each item they were asked about the reasons for the dislike. To ensure that the complexity and range of the participants’ dislikes and rationales were captured in the analysis, a structuring content analysis as a mostly theory-driven approach was combined with inductive category creation out of the interview data.


The most often mentioned type of dislike was musical style, followed by artist and genre. Five main reference points were identified for describing musical dislikes: the music itself, lyrics, performance, artist, and the people who listen to it. The identified rationales for disliked music were assigned to three larger categories: object-related reasons, such as music-compositional aspects, aesthetic dichotomies or lyrics; subject-related reasons, such as emotional or bodily effects, or discrepancies with the self-image; social reasons, which refer to one’s social environment and the taste judgments common to it (in-group) or to other groups of which the participants do not feel part of (out-group). Apart from the rationales for disliked music, the participants described specific reactions when they are confronted with their disliked music, such as emotional, physical, and social reactions.


While musical dislikes have already been shown to fulfill important social functions, the current study extends the rationales to music-related and self-related reasons. Musical dislikes fulfill similar functions to liked music, such as preservation of a good mood, identity expression and construction, strengthening of group cohesion as well as social distinction.

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  1. The article is interesting, but the research is garbage, only 21 participants. Might as well have just asked 1 person. The subject group is too small to determine anything useful, they should have done their due diligence before publishing.

  2. I can’t help but think this article is a result of the increased presence of rap and hip hop… I can’t dignify it as “music”… Since it lacks melody, harmony and other characteristics of actual Music…. Thus the research into what people are finding more and more annoying as fans of it subject the rest of us to it at higher and higher decibels…

  3. You apparently don’t understand different types of music and you certainly don’t understand individual motivation to enjoy a varied selection of different types of music.

    1. This article poses a very interesting idea, would absolutely love to see more research done on it and have been really thinking about it for the past few years, diving into genres I normally wouldn’t listen to. Best decision of my life. also I disagree with whatever the duck G. bar said. I agree with Dats me. Even if hip hop has been the trend lately, you’re proving the article’s point by saying you dislike it because it lacks this or that and trying to disprove that it isn’t music, some Ben Shapiro sh*t… You don’t have the right to approve whether or not something is considered music, neither can I. It’s almost subjective at the end of the day because people can like whatever music they want to hear and dislike what they want to dislike, and people will always clash each other about what is and isn’t good music, horrible taste etc, but that’s if we decide not to expand our variety and be more open to what other people listen to, even if we ourselves don’t decide to listen to it. Too many people in the world and an absurd amount of music to listen to, it’d be a shame to diminish your range to such a small circle, what’s the point? (See what I did there?)

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