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Are musicians narcissists?

So, welcome back, carrying on from the themes of the previous blogs surrounding the traits and quirks of popular musicians, in this week's writing I’ll be continuing exploring this nurture vs nature debate.

In the mid 90’s researchers explored the personality characteristics of 171 rock musicians and suggested that they were more neurotic or behaved in an obstinate manner (acting up, pushing boundaries), when compared to classical musicians - you can read the research here.

In general, they found that the musicians were more extroverted and arrogant compared to population norms (normal people), as well as being more neurotic! In my view this ‘neuroticism’ could prompt loads of anxiety or alternatively be utilised for a more energetic performance as a result of the adrenalin flood.

In a more recent study the personalities of 100 rock and popular musicians were explored in an attempt to try and create a generalised profile of a rock musician. They found that these musicians had low levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness (whatever that means... I assume they were slightly more moody) and again had higher levels of neuroticism alongside being open to new experiences. This being said, these traits did vary between different instrumentalists, length of time in the industry, levels of success and musicianship - you can read the research here.

In a third study, researchers compared narcissistic traits of popular, classical and non-musicians, the popular musicians were far found to be more extrovert and grandiose when compared to the classical musicians or non-musicians.

These traits were linked to these popular musicians' assumed use of soft drugs and alcohol use. The research also found that musicians within both demographics generally show a greater level of narcissism when compared to normal people (non musicians) - you can read the research here.

I found this particularly interesting as I feel that to get up on stage, perform and project ourselves forward we do have to have a healthy sense of self or narcissistic traits to step up. In the modern world of Tok Tok, the word narcissistic has many reductionistic and binary connotations. I think all performing musicians have to be slightly grandiose, a healthy dose, it’s when it goes a little too far that problems can creep in!

Additionally, all of these studies used variations on questionnaires to determine potential personality traits that could contribute to mental health difficulties so they do need to be taken with a pinch of psychological salt! In all, this latest series of blogs surrounding the traits of musicians can help us to understand others in our community. Despite all of this research we are still in the infancy of research within the complex area of popular musicians. In my opinion the best way to learn about our own traits and other musicians is to be in a communal space such as the Peer Support Group! or to tune into the latest episode of Tonic Music on Totally Wired Radio where I interview musicians about their music and mind. Next week I’ll be talking to Thom from the Lottery Winners.


Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.


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