Breaking Down Neuroticism with Music

It is well understood that music conveys emotion and movement conveys personality. Graduate studies at JYU showed how the big five traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) are displayed through different types of movement in dancing participants.

In general, people with high neuroticism had high local and low global movements that remained close to the body. These movements represent the need for self protection in neurotic people, as feelings of anxiety and stress flood their mind. As an individual with high neuroticism, I can say that dancing is a vulnerable activity that makes us highly uncomfortable (particularly in front of other people), hence the need for self protection. I would also argue that these feelings stem from a fear of looking strange or odd or standing out in general, creating the anxiety and stress.

The same previous research also showed an increase in empathy in children that participated in music, showing that music and movement have long term effects on personality. Personality is typically thought to be stable throughout the lifetime, but this research shows it may be available to change and develop, if worked on early enough.

Using the previous JYU research and the idea that neuroticism largely stems from fear, I wonder if music and movement may be used to decrease neuroticism traits. This barrier should be looked at similarly to a fear of heights; the more a fearful person faces heights, the reaction to the fear slowly decreases. So, if highly neurotic individuals are asked to dance to music regularly, I wonder if their movements will slowly open and move away from “self protection” in the same way researchers saw increased empathy.

Finally, the question should be asked if the change is, in fact, long term and/or how to keep it long term. Returning to the fear of heights idea, if a fearful individual works over 6 months on decreasing his/her reaction to heights, but then stays on the ground for a year, how would the individual react when put on a high ropes course at the end of the year? The same concepts would likely have to be adapted to decreasing neuroticism in the long term.


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