Study: Violent Music Lyrics Increase Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings5
WASHINGTON – Songs with violent lyrics increase aggression related thoughts and emotions and this effect is directly related to the violence in the lyrics, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The findings, appearing in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, contradicts popular notions of positive catharsis or venting effects of listening to angry, violent music on violent thoughts and feelings.
In a series of five experiments involving over 500 college students, researchers from Iowa State University and the Texas Department of Human Services examined the effects of seven violent songs by seven artists and eight nonviolent songs by seven artists. The students listened to the songs and were given various psychological tasks to measure aggressive thoughts and feelings. One such task involved participants classifying words that can have both aggressive and nonaggressive meanings, such as rock and stick.
To control for factors not related to the content of the lyrics, the violent and nonviolent songs were sung by the same artists and were in the same musical style in three of the experiments. In the two other experiments, the researchers tested the arousal properties of the songs to make sure the violent-lyric effects were not due to differences in arousal. Also, individual personality differences related to hostility were assessed and controlled. The study also included songs with humorous lyrics to see how humor interacted with violent song lyrics and aggressive thoughts.
Results of the five experiments show that violent songs led to more aggressive interpretations of ambiguously aggressive words, increased the relative speed with which people read aggressive vs. nonaggressive words, and increased the proportion of word fragments (such as h_t) that were filled in to make aggressive words (such as hit). The violent songs increased feelings of hostility without provocation or threat, according to the authors, and this effect was not the result of differences in musical style, specific performing artist or arousal properties of the songs. Even the humorous violent songs increased aggressive thoughts.
The violent-song increases in aggressive thoughts and feelings have implications for real world violence, according to lead researcher Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D. of Iowa State University. “Aggressive thoughts can influence perceptions of ongoing social interactions, coloring them with an aggressive tint. Such aggression-biased interpretations can, in turn, instigate a more aggressive response -verbal or physical – than would have been emitted in a nonbiased state, thus provoking an aggressive escalatory spiral of antisocial exchanges,” said Dr. Anderson.