Ep. 57: What the music you like says about your personality; with David Greenberg, PhD

August 25, 2020

Our musical tastes provide remarkable insight into our personality traits. Dr. David Greenberg has combined science, music, and psychology to develop Musical Universe, “a 23andMe for music,” whose data has been used by top research institutions. Take Musical Universe’s free 15-minute test to discover what the music you listen to reflects about your “Big Five” personality traits.

David Greenberg, PhD


Musical Universe is a US-based technology company that combines music, science, and psychology to advance understanding about the power of music, and the link between musical tastes and personality. Musical Universe has been called “a 23andMe for music,” and its data has been used by research teams from top institutions, including Cambridge University, Columbia University, and Oxford University, to advance knowledge within and outside the field of music.

Joining me today from Jerusalem is Musical Universe founder Dr. David Greenberg. Dr. Greenberg is a social neuroscientist, psychologist, and musician. He received his PhD in psychology from Cambridge University and has masters degrees from Cambridge and City University of New York.  His research has been published in numerous journals and has been reported on by media including CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • David shares the genesis of Musical Universe – how and when it began.
  • Musical Universe’s “mission is to improve the impact of music on people and society.” David explains ways Musical Universe does this.
  • The “Big Five” Personality Traits used by researchers are (acronym OCEAN): Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism. Fun fact: According to Musical Universe, jazz lovers tend to be high on Openness, and low on Conscientiousness.
  • David explains that music research is moving away from genre classifications of music, and into style or feature classifications (aka mood or motion features).
  • Musical characteristics utilized in the Musical Universe test (acronym MUSIC): Mellow, Unpretentious, Sophisticated, Intense, Contemporary.
  • Dr. Greenberg is very active in many other ways of enhancing lives with music, including involvement in humanitarian efforts that facilitate social change; charitable boards that bring music to disadvantaged children; and working with Arab and Jewish teenagers from East and West Jerusalem to overcome cultural barriers through music and dialogue. Dr. Greenberg also received a community service award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his work with victims of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Dr. Greenberg is a professional saxophonist who began touring at the age of 16 and he continues to perform today. His research is inspired by his work on stage as a musician and real-world experiences with clients. He facilitates workshops internationally to bring people together through community singing. Inspired by Oliver Sacks, Dr. Greenberg draws on his curiosity about the human mind and relationships, and links it to scientific investigation.
  • Dr. Greenberg is a Zuckerman Post-doctoral Scholar in social neuroscience at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and an Honorary Research Associate at the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University in England. He received his PhD in psychology from Cambridge University and has additional post-doctoral training in clinical psychology and music therapy.

Connect/Other Resources

  • Dr. Greenberg’s personal website
  • Musical Universe website
  • Take the free test: The basic assessment is free, but with a $25 donation, you get a full interactive report with more information. (Begin with the Basic test, which is your only option at the start. You’ll be given the option at the end to submit payment for the full interactive report, if you’d like.)
  • Twitter: @DGreenbergPhD


At two-weeks-old, David went into the ICU where he was treated for a month. David tells a story about the powerful impact his grandfather had on David’s life during this time – and during the first five years of his life – and a related earworm mystery that was solved.

Closing Words

Thanks so much to Dr. Greenberg for sharing his expertise with us today, and for those incredible stories of experiencing the power of music. As we mentioned, you can take the free test at Musical Universe’s website. I was on a Delta flight last week (we took our daughter to college on the other end of the country – wow – lots of mixed emotions there!). I don’t usually watch movies on planes, but I decided to just see what was available, and there was a film about Linda Ronstadt’s life that I had never heard of. I watched it, and it was a great film, I highly recommend it! Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice  Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Some of this site’s product links are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, for purchases made through these links. https://youtu.be/eDMYAsu5PvILinda has strong ties to our guest on Ep. 41, Eugene Rodriguez of Los Cenzontles, an organization that uses music to preserve Mexican heritage and culture. I didn’t realize how incredibly versatile and successful Ronstadt was in so many different genres. I became familiar with her work because I’m a huge fan of Aaron Neville, and they did several incredible duets together. And actually, versatility is one thing I love about Aaron Neville’s work – he sings SO many different genres SO well, that I’ve always felt that if I were stranded on a desert island with only one artist’s music, I would choose his because he pretty much covers rhythm & blues, soul, jazz, funk, rock, gospel, folk, pop, reggae… and is amazing at all of it. And that is one of the ways music enhanced my life this week. I’d love to hear about yours; you can connect with me on social media, email, or my website. Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

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