If music recommenders were people

November 30, 2009

University of Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, they’re related) and his research team have created instruments to measure two aspects of personality: the systemization quotient, which measures how oriented you are towards systems (anything with predictable inputs and outputs) and the empathic quotient, which measures how oriented you are towards people. People who are autistic tend to have very low EQs, but frequently have very high SQs. (You can measure your own SQ and EQ here.)

Pandora is clearly all about the systemization, with no empathic component – it’s practically autistic. Your friend saying “Best fuckin’ album I’ve heard in months” and sending you a link is all EQ, no SQ (and for most of us, that’s the killer app).

Baron-Cohen describes people who have similar EQs and SQs – that is, they are equally oriented towards people and systems – as being ‘balanced.’ Last.fm‘s social sharing and Hype Machine‘s ‘another user tried searching for [this band] next’ have moderate EQs and SQs. And The Echo Nest‘s Recommend + Analyze combo explicitly aims to have both a high SQ and high EQ – what people are saying about the music, coupled with its intrinsic characteristics.

Of course, just as with people, it’s all about the diversity of approaches.


  1. Such a great link up between the human mind and the computer mind.
    It seems inescapable because I believe these two things will only blend more and more as time goes on.
    Sad? Not really. (seeing how all humans are spending more and more time of their lives interacting with computers)

    I also took the time to measure my own EQ and SQ. I am SO empathizing.
    Which didn’t jive with me being a male apparently…

  2. Thanks! It was meant to be at least a bit tongue-in-cheek. I read about Pandora in the NYT mag article and thought it sounded totally autistic.

  3. Did you make the link to music yourself, or was it included in the research? I know Cohen’s stuff on autism, he is a leading figure in the area of the phenomenon Theory of Mind too.

    dirkler, it sounds as if you mean that men can’t have the same EQ as women.

    • I made the link myself – I did a bunch of research on Cohen’s work as part of my day job, so it’s what hit me when I read the Pandora article.

    • Men can absolutely have the same EQ as women. All I did was take the test and this is what it told me. Don’t shoot the messenger!

  4. The results would probably wouldn’t be as good if a person recommended music. But who knows?

    • Paul Lamere has jokingly said that he needs music recommenders because he doesn’t have any friends. But even your music-loving friends are unlikely to sit at your side and hand-craft you a Pandora or Last.fm playlist. Nothing will ever supplant personal recommendations; all the electronic stuff will only augment it.

  5. I wonder whether an individual’s EQ/SQ predilictions correlate with the EQ/SQ of the recommender they find useful, and if so whether directly or inversely. I tested with below average scores in both EQ and SQ (I am apparently oriented toward chaos and inanimate objects), but apparently weighted toward SQ. But I find the systematic recommenders like Pandora to be much less useable than more empathic ones.

  6. Am I a robot? SQ = 86 Extreme Systemizing.

    • I don’t know – are you a robot?

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