We’re writing this post just to show how science deals with such questions because, amongst ourselves, we’ve settled this dispute a long time ago: Wish you were here (1975) is the best album!
To provide a little context, the three Pink Floyd albums that always seem to rank highest are:
|Album||Release Date||Copies sold|
|Dark side of the moon||1st March 1973||45 Million|
|Wish you were here||12th September 1975||14 Million|
|The Wall||30th November 1979||24 Million|
While the number of copies sold is a good measure for how much people in general enjoyed an album, it doesn’t say very much about whether an individual likes it or not. This is where science comes in. We’ll be discussing the experimental study entitled Keypress-Based Musical Preference Is Both Individual and Lawful published in 2017 in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
The methodolody of this research was to play recordings of various music pieces, Classical, Jazz and Pop and allow the subjects to either fast-forward the song if they didn’t like it or play it for longer otherwise. They could also choose to not press any key or to press an opposite key midway (e.g. initially playing a song for longer but skipping it if it became boring). There were 62 participants between the ages of 19 and 40, both male and female. About two thirds of them had some formal musical training although less than a third were proficient.
This testing framework involving keypresses has been used to measure preference of various stimuli as the authors show:
The keypress task was developed out of a operant framework where each keypress action had an incremental consequence on stimulus view time (Aharon et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2015), and has been well-validated across multiple studies (Aharon et al., 2001; Elman et al., 2005; Strauss et al., 2005; Levy et al., 2008; Makris et al., 2008; Perlis et al., 2008; Gasic et al., 2009; Yamamoto et al., 2009; Kim et al., 2010; Lee et al., 2015; Viswanathan et al., 2015, 2017). It follows an intrinsic motivation framework devoid of external rewards, such as food or money (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Bandura, 1997), and quantifies reward/aversion by how much subjects approach or avoid stimuli—namely, to what extent subjects actively keypress to increase or decrease the amount of time they are exposed to predetermined categories of stimuli. The keypress task is a variant of techniques used to study effort-based decision-making (Walton et al., 2002, 2003, 2006).
The results from this experiment confirmed what other studies had found – that individual preferences in general and in music in particular are heterogenous, varying a lot from one person to another.
Research on preference has emphasized the subjective nature of preferences (Kable and Glimcher, 2007; Lau and Glimcher, 2008). In music, individual preferences are thought to be quite heterogeneous, leading to use of individualized stimuli for neuroimaging and the concordant challenge of generalizing preference toward music across individuals (e.g., Blood and Zatorre, 2001; Osuch et al., 2009; Pereira et al., 2011; Trost et al., 2012; Salimpoor et al., 2013).
However, the fact that preference varies between individuals doesn’t mean that it’s totally random. There was a study from 1997 that showed correlations between traits from the Eyseneck Personality Questionnaire and musical preferences (gender, extroversion and psychoticism). The statistical findings from the study with Keypresses show that the data patterns are lawful, which means:
It’s a pity that the research didn’t go deeper into the personalities of the subjects and their personal experiences to find some interesting correlations but big data and access to streaming services should make such future research a lot easier.
Coming back to the question posed in the title, Wish you were here is the best Pink Floyd album because we like it and preferences are really individual. To be fair, “What is the best Pink Floyd album?” is not the right question to ask. It should be “What is your favourite Pink Floyd album?”.