The impact of music on society

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Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and
Music plays an important role in the socialization of children and adolescents.1–
3 Listening to popular music is considered by society to be a part of growing up.2 Music
provides entertainment and distraction from problems and serves as a way to relieve
tension and boredom. Some studies have reported that adolescents use popular music to
deal with loneliness and to take control of their emotional status or mood.2,4 Music also
can provide a background for romance and serve as the basis for establishing
relationships in diverse settings.2 Adolescents use music in their process of identity
formation,4–11 and their music preference provides them a means to achieve group
identity and integration into the youth culture.5,7–9,12,13 Some authors have suggested
that popular music provides adolescents with the means to resolve unconscious conflicts
related to their particular developmental stage2,7,12,14 and that their music preference
might reflect the level of turmoil of this stage.14–17
Adolescents’ choice of music and their reactions to and interpretations of it vary with age,
culture, and ethnicity.2,13,14,18–25 Research has shown that there also is a difference in
these variables between the genders.25 Female adolescents are more likely than male
adolescents to use music to reflect their emotional state, in particular when feeling lonely
or “down.”2,26,27 Male adolescents, on the other hand, are more likely to use music as a
stimulant, as a way to “boost” their energy level, or to create a more positive image of
To understand the importance of music in the life of adolescents, a survey performed in
the early 1990s of 2760 American adolescents aged 14 through 16 years revealed that
they listened to music an average of 40 hours per week.28 In another study in 2000,
North et al4found that a sample of 2465 adolescents in England reported listening to
music for an average of 2.45 hours per day. On a study performed in 2005 to assess
media use of 8- to 18-year-olds in the United States, Roberts et al25 reported that on a
given day, 85% of 8- to 18-year-olds listen to music. Although time devoted to listening
to music varies with age group, American youth listen to music from 1.5 to 2.5 hours per
day. Still, a study performed with a small sample of at-risk youth revealed an average of
up to 6.8 hours of music-listening per day.29 Furthermore, Roberts et al found that 33%
of those listening to music did so while performing other tasks or activities. These data
support the idea that the prevalence of music-listening in adolescents may be even higher
than that of television viewing. The reason for this is that popular music is present almost
everywhere, from the supermarket to the mall, often as background music. It also is
easily available through the radio, various recordings, the Internet, and new
technologies,11,25 allowing adolescents to hear it in diverse settings and situations, alone
or shared with friends.
Adolescents are not the only young consumers of popular music. A study with 100
fourth- through sixth-graders revealed that 98% of these children listened to popular
music, 72% of them on “most days” or every day.30 Furthermore, it has been reported
that children 8 to 10 years of age listen to music an average of 1 hour per day.25 With
many children and adolescents listening on iPods or other devices using headphones,
parents may have little knowledge of what their children are listening to.
Research on popular music has explored several areas such as its effects on
schoolwork,31social interactions, mood and affect,20,26,27,32,33 and particularly
behavior.10,11,34–36 Several theories have been developed to explain the relationship
between music and behavior,15,37,38 and a number of studies have demonstrated that
there is a relationship between music and emotions, regardless of age.20,23,27,39–
41 Although the emotional response to music depends on the way it is presented, it is also
true that it is closely related to the age of the listener and the experiences or preconceived
ideas they bring to the music.2,14,39 The effect that popular music has on children’s and
adolescents’ behavior and emotions is of paramount concern.40 There is particular
concern related to the lyrics of some genres of music and their effect on children and
Lyrics have become more explicit in their references to drugs, sex, and violence over the
years.11 A content analysis of the top 10 CDs performed by the National Institute on
Media in 1999 revealed that each of these CDs included at least 1 song with sexual
content. Forty-two percent of the songs on these CDs contained very explicit sexual
content.46 Lyrics of some music genres, such as rock, heavy metal, rap, and new
emerging genres such as reggaeton, have been found to revolve around topics such as
sexual promiscuity, death, homicide, suicide, and substance abuse.9,13,17,43,45,46–
53 Most recently, some rap music has been characterized by the presence of explicit
sexual language in its lyrics as well as messages of violence, racism, homophobia, and
hatred toward women.9,10,42,54 Drug, tobacco, and alcohol use also tend to be glorified
in these songs.
In refuting concerns about the effect of lyrics, some have argued that children and
adolescents use music only for entertainment, that little or no attention is paid to the
words, and if any attention is given, understanding tends to be limited and related to the
experiences lived by the listener.32,55 However, other studies have demonstrated the
contrary.56 Approximately 17% of male adolescents and 25% of female adolescents
expressed that they liked their favorite songs specifically because the lyrics were a
reflection of their feelings.2 Also, it has been found that the more importance adolescents
give to a certain type of music, the more attention they will pay to the
lyrics.2,55,57,58Furthermore, Knobloch-Westerwick et al have stated that although young
listeners might not understand all the details in lyrics, they recognize enough to obtain a
general idea of the message they bring.11
Regarding the effects of popular music on behavior, several studies have demonstrated
that preference for certain types of music could be correlated or associated with certain
behaviors,*such as the association of drug and alcohol use with “rave” music or
electronic music dance events.13,50,51,62 Roberts et al39 performed a study in 1997 at an
adolescent clinic, and their results suggested that probably the best predictor of risk in
adolescents related to music is their self-report of negative feelings or emotions when
listening to any type of music. The authors of that study described an association between
negative emotional response to music and risk-taking behaviors and even suggested that
what triggers risky behavior in some adolescents is the negative emotional response
rather than the type of music. Scheel and Westefeld61 supported this suggestion in 1999.
Heavy metal and some rock music have been associated in some studies with an
increased risk of suicide.17,61,63,66,67 Fans of heavy metal music have been reported in
the literature to have more problems with school authorities and teachers than students
who are not fans of that type of music.2 Heavy metal music-listening has also been
associated with increased depression, delinquency risk behavior,63–65 smoking, and
conduct problems.60 Fans of heavy metal and rap music showed a greater tendency to
engage in reckless behavior than their peers who were not fans of those types of
music.2,14,37,68 A study performed to explore the possible effect of heavy metal music
containing either sexually violent or nonviolent lyrics on males’ attitudes toward women
revealed that those exposed to heavy metal music, with either sexually violent or
nonviolent lyrics, showed significantly more negative stereotyped attitudes toward
women than those in a group instead exposed to classical music.2,69 Likewise, in a study
performed by Fischer and Greitemeyer,42 men who listened to misogynistic lyrics
showed increased aggressive responses toward women as well as a more negative
perception of them.
In a study in which adolescents who preferred heavy metal and rap music were compared
with those who preferred other types of music, results indicated that the former
consistently showed below-average current and elementary school grades, with a history
of counseling in elementary school for academic problems.14 A study performed in 1999
with a sample of 345 mothers from public schools revealed that 47% of the mothers
believed that violent messages in rap music contribute to school violence70; yet,
according to a 2007 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation on parents, children, and
the media,44 only 9% of parents revealed being concerned about inappropriate content in
The preference for heavy metal music, rap, and associated genres among adolescents
must alert us to an increased vulnerability and tendency toward risky behaviors.
Adolescents at risk and with a feeling of alienation because of previous failures or
problems tend to prefer these types of music, which might reflect their pessimistic view
of life and the world.2,9,14,17,19,37,71 Correlational studies, however, have inherent
limitations and cannot identify cause-and-effect relationships, but the associations reflect
the status of the current research.
Research related to music and its effects on children and adolescents has been expanded
into another expression of popular music: the music video. Music videos are appealing to
children and adolescents. Considering that music videos mix 2 media that are attractive to
youth (television and popular music), it is important to study their effects on a young
audience and to be concerned about the messages these music videos
promote.30,72 Music videos have been widely studied.29,30,55,72–93 They are mainly
classified as either performance or concept videos. For a performance video, an artist or a
group is filmed during a performance, usually a concert. Concept videos, on the other
hand, tell the viewer a story that may or may not evolve from the song. This story may
sometimes add content to the lyrics and provide a particular interpretation that is
reinforced every time the viewer hears the song.72,73,75 As with popular music, the
perception and the effect of music-video messages on children and adolescents is related
to the age and developmental and emotional stage of the viewer, as well as the level of
The prevalence of music-video–watching has been studied in both the United States and
Europe.30,79,90,92,94 A study of 100 fourth- to sixth-graders revealed that 75% of them
watched music videos, with 60% of them self-describing their frequency of viewing
videos as either “pretty much” or “a lot.” Of these children, 62% watched music videos
either “most days” or “every day,” and 7% watched them even before going to
school.30 In 2003, a report of the Kaiser Family Foundation90 revealed that 3 of 4 of
those in the 16- to 24-year-old group watch MTV, 58% watch it at least once a week, and
20% watch it for an hour or more every day. More recently, a study revealed that a
sample of 12- to 15-year-olds watched music videos on an average of 4.3 days per
Research on music videos has been focused mainly on content analyses. A study
published in 1997 by DuRant et al76,82 described an analysis of 518 music videos on 4
television networks (MTV, VH1, CMT, and BET). This study revealed that the
percentage of violence in music videos ranged from 11.5% to 22.4%, with the most
violent videos having been presented on MTV. When analyzed according to type of
music, rap videos had the highest portrayal of violence (20.4%), closely followed by rock
videos (19.8%). Using the same sample, another study revealed that although the
percentage of videos that portrayed alcohol use showed no significant differences among
networks, the percentage portrayed was still significant, ranging from 18.7% to 26.9%.
Of the networks, MTV had the highest percentage of alcohol representation and also the
highest percentage of videos that portrayed smoking behaviors (25.7%). Of these videos,
rap music videos showed a higher content of alcohol or tobacco use than did other types
of videos.75 In 1998, Rich et al82reported on the findings of content analyses that looked
for gender or race differences in aggressors or victims of acts of violence portrayed in the
same sample of 518 music videos. The analyses showed that black individuals were
overrepresented as aggressors (25%) and as victims (41%), compared with the percentage
of black individuals in the general population (12%). Studies performed by Smith and
Boyson in 200293 and Gruber et al in 200591 validated these findings.
Analysis of the content in music videos is important, because research has reported that
exposure to violence, sexual messages, sexual stereotypes, and use of substances of abuse
in music videos might produce significant changes in behaviors and attitudes of young
viewers.†Frequent watching of music videos has been related to an increased risk of
developing beliefs in false stereotypes and an increased perceived importance of
appearance and weight in adolescent girls.83 In studies performed to assess the reactions
of young males exposed to violent rap music videos or sexist videos, participants reported
an increased probability that they would engage in violence, a greater acceptance of the
use of violence, and a greater acceptance of the use of violence against women than did
participants who were not exposed to these videos.29,35,77,78,92
In 1999 Kalof84 reported that college students who were exposed to videos with
stereotyped sexual images showed more acceptance of adversarial relationships than
those who were not exposed. Kaestle et al92 reported in 2007 that in a group of seventhand eighth-grade boys, watching music videos and professional wrestling was associated
with an increased acceptance of date rape. A survey performed among 214 adolescents
revealed that there was an association between music-video–watching and permissive
sexual behaviors.76 It has also been reported that after watching MTV, adolescents’
attitudes were more accepting of premarital sex.52,53,80 A survey performed among
2760 American adolescents demonstrated that listening to music and watching television
and music videos more frequently was associated with increased risky behaviors68 and
alcohol use85,86; these results were validated by vandenBulck and Beullens,94 who
demonstrated a longitudinal relationship between adolescents’ exposure to music videos
and alcohol use while going out to a bar, party, disco, etc. In 2003, Wingwood et
al89 reported on a study in which 522 black female adolescents with a median exposure
to rap music videos of 14 hours per week were followed for 12 months. After controlling
for all the covariates, greater exposure to rap music videos was independently associated
with a wide variety of risky behaviors such as increased promiscuity and use of drugs and
alcohol, among others. Of importance, a study performed by Austin et al98 in 2000
revealed that the potential risks of exposure to music videos can be moderated by parental
reinforcement and counterreinforcement of conducts observed.

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