New psychological research suggests that your favorite songs reveal your attachment style


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What does having a certain artist on repeat tell us about how we should—or how not to—navigate our romantic lives, friendships, and family ties? Whether it’s Adele or The Weeknd on your playlist, your lyrics can say a lot about you, and it all has to do with attachment styles, or how people typically think, feel and behave in relationships.

“I’m interested in the role that music plays in people’s lives. Ever since humans started making music tens of thousands of years ago, songs across cultures have always focused on relationships – getting together, maintaining or breaking up – so I wonder, do people listen to music that reflects their experiences in relationships?” says Ravin Alaei, who graduated with a Ph.D. from the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 2019.

In a new study published in the journal Personal connections, Alaei and psychology professors Geoff Macdonald and Nicholas Rule found that people’s unique attachment styles correspond to the lyrics of their favorite songs. In other words, we tend to return to the tones that describe what we’re going through in a relationship, for better or for worse.

“Songs matter, so pay attention to them,” says Alaei, who is also a doctor who completed his doctorate at McMaster University. “The lyrics to your favorite relationship songs can help validate your thoughts and feelings, but they can also reveal things about your relationship experiences that you might not realize—something you’re going through over and over, that you keep get into.

First, a review of attachment styles, which can roughly be thought of as four categories, Alaei says.

  • Anxious people worry about being rejected and seek a lot of reassurance in their relationships.
  • On the other hand, people who are avoidant respond to their negative expectations about relationships by withholding emotion and intimacy in favor of independence.
  • People with mixed attachment styles have confused expectations, oscillating between clingy and cold.
  • Finally, secure people have an optimistic view of relationships and are open in communication and trust their partners.

“We asked 570 people to tell us their favorite songs, and then coded the nearly 7,000 songs for the attachment styles their lyrics expressed. Conversely, we consistently found that avoidant people prefer music with avoidant lyrics,” says Alaei. “I expected to see a clear relationship between anxious people and anxious songs because they are the most emotional, but surprisingly it was the weakest result.”

This strong avoidance relationship is reflected not only at the individual level, but also at the societal level. In another study, the researchers coded over 800 Billboard number one hits from 1946 to 2015 for their attachment themes and found that lyrics have become more avoidant and insecure over time.

“Popular music lyrics parallel sociological trends of social disconnection – people value independence over reliance on others and feel more isolated,” says Alaei.

If we’re listening to music that reflects our relationships back on us, does that help or hinder our relationship skills? Alaei says this is the next step in the research.

Take Adele’s diagram, for example, which Alaei says tipped the scales toward troubling themes and was popular with participants. “Someone Like You” appeared on many charts, with the refrain: “I hate to show up out of the blue / But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it / I had hoped that you would see my face and that you would be reminded / That for me this is not over.”

If someone is an anxious person, will listening to “Someone Like You” on repeat do more harm than good? According to Alaei, it all starts with self-awareness of one’s own attachment style.

“As an anxious person, you should recognize that you are sensitive to negative feedback and your emotions are snowballing,” says Alaei. “Music can be a very powerful enhancer of that because it can stimulate deep feelings and memories and ultimately reinforce your concerns.”

Adele fans may have a very different relationship experience than those listening to The Weeknd’s “Heartless.” With lyrics like “Try to be a better man than I’m heartless / Never be a wedding planner for a heartless / Low life for life because I’m heartless,” it’s a good example of an avoidance song, Alaei says.

His advice: “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 experience back to you is either help you or reinforce self-destructive behavior. At some point, you may find it more productive to listen to music that provides a sense of security.”

A popular throwback among attendees was Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”: “Then put your little hand in mine / There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”

“It’s pretty much a manual on how to stay securely attached,” says Alaei.

What do your favorite relationship songs reveal about your attachment style? Here are some of the songs research participants chose for their playlists:

Avoid songs:

  • Beyoncé, irreplaceable
  • Chris Brown, Say Goodbye
  • N’Sync, Bye Bye Bye
  • Michael Jackson and Billie Jean
  • TLC, Scrubs
  • Rihanna, take a bow
  • The Weeknd, The Hills; Heartless

Worrying songs:

  • Adele, someone like you
  • The police, every second you take
  • Miley Cyrus, breaking ball
  • Hello Adele
  • U2, one
  • Seether, Broken
  • No doubt, no talk
  • Bruno Mars – When I Was Your Man
  • Drake, Hotline Bling

Safe layers:

  • Sonny & Cher, I Got You Babe
  • Whitney Houston, I will always love you
  • The Beatles, Love Me Do
  • Ed Sheeran, think out loud
  • Plain White Ts, I Love You
  • John Legend, All of Me
  • Michael Bublé, Haven’t Met You Yet
  • Beach Boys, wouldn’t that be nice
  • Bryan Adams, (Everything I Do) I do it for you
  • Etta James, Finally
  • Justin Bieber, holy

Anxious-Avoidant (Mixed) Songs:

  • Carrie Underwood, before he cheats
  • Gotye, someone I knew
  • Taylor Swift, Bad Blood
  • Sam Smith, I’m not the only one
  • No yes, so sick
  • Bonnie Raitt, I Can’t Make You Love Me
  • Adele, Rolling in the Deep
  • Rihanna ft. Drake, work
  • Eminem ft. Rihanna, love the way you lie
More information:
Ravin Alaei et al., the lyrics of individuals’ favorite songs reflect their attachment style, Personal connections (2022). DOI: 10.1111/pere.12448

Provided by the University of Toronto

Quotation: New Psychology Research Suggests Your Favorite Songs Reveal Your Attachment Style (2022, November 11) Retrieved November 14, 2022 from

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