Sunday, March 4, 2012

Does Negative Music Really Cause Bad Behavior?

Over the years, teens have been shown to exhibit behavior that is deemed to be immoral and detrimental to society, including violence, premarital sex, substance abuse, and the like. Whenever people see teens exhibiting this behavior, many are quick to make the assumption that modern day music, which depicts such behavior in vivid detail and in many cases even glorifies it, is to blame. Their logic is this: if teens listen to music with destructive themes, then they are bound to imitate it. They are essentially blaming music for the problems they see in teens. Although this line of thinking does appear to be accurate, it is merely an assumption that, under close scrutiny, is at least partially untrue. In this blog I will attempt to prove that the real reason for the negative behavior that teens exhibit is not the music that they are listening to, however, teens who have problems with negative behavior seek out music that has negative themes. When I say this, I do not mean that listening to hours of music promoting negative themes does not have any impact on teens. I am simply saying that it is not the cause for the negative behavior that teens participate in.

Part 1: The Cause for Concern
Negative Content in Today's Music
The concern many have that music is causing a negative impact on teenagers is not one without merit. Music nowadays is filled with negative content such as violence and suicidal themes. Rap and Heavy Metal are the genres with which people usually associate negative lyrical content, but this content can be found in almost every other musical genre. Some examples of extremely popular artists that frequently release music with negative lyrics are Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and Eminem. Additionally, numerous studies have shown a correlation between bad behavior and negative music. One example was a study by APA conducted an experiment in which students were given 7 violent songs and 8 nonviolent songs to listen to. The students were then given psychological tasks to ascertain the level of aggressiveness the music caused. For example, the students were given a list of incomplete words and were told to complete the them. Students who listened to the violent music were more likely to spell out words that were more violent (Ki _ _ was more likely to be spelled out as kill than kiss or king) [1]. Researchers from  places such as Iowa State University ,Texas Human services, and  the APA have conducted similar experiments and ended up with similar results [5] [8]. Other studies have shown that teens who listen to rap music that demeans women tend to have a demeaning attitude toward women [2].
Teens Listen to Negative Music Regularly
The amount of time teens spend listening to music each week is astounding. A study of eighth and ninth grader adolescents showed that the adolescents listened to 21 hours of music per week [6]. These numbers in all likelihood do not represent the true amount of time that adolescents actually listen to music because adolescents often listen to music while doing other tasks,  and  because music can be heard in many of the places that teenagers frequently visit, including shopping malls, restaurants, and amusement parks [6].  Adolescents have access to music almost everywhere they go. Additionally, adolescents spend 33% of their time listening to music while doing other things, which makes the number of probable hours teens spend listening to music even higher [11]. Studies have also shown that teens prefer music to nearly every other pastime. For example, a study on students in northern California in 1990 asked a group of teens what medium they would take to a desert island. The choices were music, television, books, videotapes, magazines, and a computer. In the seventh grade, 40 percent of students chose music as their first choice, and 26 percent chose television as their first choice, in the ninth grade 44 percent chose music as their first choice and 29 percent chose television as their first choice, and in the eleventh grade 52 percent chose music as there first choice, and 26 percent chose it as their second choice [6]. Because teens spend all of this time listening to music, it is inevitable that the majority of teens will listen to music that contains negative themes, and that the teens who do listen to negative music will listen to a large amount of it.

Part 2: The Offered Explanation for Bad Behavior
Many people have deemed music as the cause of teen behavior. In cases such as teen violence, suicide, and other forms of negative behavior, the teens involved preferred to listen to music with negative themes. Because of this, many adults offer music as the cause. They believe that since these teens listen to music that is negative, the music must be the cause for the behavior. The following are some examples of instances where bad behavior and music have been linked. 
Cases Where Negative Music Has Been Linked With Violent Acts
In some cases, violent music has been linked with violent acts carried out by teenagers. The person involved in a shooting a Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas was a fan of music by Tupac Shakur and Bone Thugs 'N Harmony, and many of the songs he listened to by these artists contained large amounts of explicit violent content. Some songs even talked about "coming to school and killing all of the kids" [12]. A teen in Fort Worth, Texas, named Jay Fieldon Howell, stabbed a 14 year old girl in the neck in front of a satanic altar he built [9]. He was a huge fan of music by Marilyn Manson, who is known for having satanic themes in a majority of his music. Instances like these feed the fear parents have of music with violent lyrics. The most famous instance in which music has been blamed for violent acts was the Columbine shootings, in Littleton, Colorado in which 12 were killed and 24 were injured [7].
Cases Where Negative Music Has Been Linked With Suicide
In one case, a girl named Hannah Bond committed suicide. She was a huge fan of emo music, and many feel that this is what drove her to kill herself. She had already tried to harm herself before, and she told her father that it was "an emo initiated ceremony" [14]. In another case, a 16 year old named Steve Boucher committed suicide. His parents believed he did so because he was a huge fan of a song by AC/DC entitled "Shoot to thrill" [13]. He was sitting under his AC/DC poster when he died. Additionally, an 18 year old named Phillip Morton committed suicide in Delafield, Wisconsin. He was playing Pink Floyd's album "The Wall", which contains songs with suicidal themes, in the background [13].
Part 3:  The Real Explanation for Bad Behavior
Because of all of the things mentioned above, many feel that music is the reason for the negative behavior that teens exhibit. However, this is not the case. Although these is a relationship between negative music and teens who display negative behavior, there is no evidence that the music is the cause of the behavior. What the evidence really suggests is that the teens are exhibiting this behavior because of other things such as traumatic experiences, home life, bullying, and other things. The reason for the relationship between negative music and negative behavior is that teens who exhibit negative behavior are listening to this music because of their tendencies toward negative behavior. Let's examine why the evidence suggests that this is the case. 
Why the Evidence That Music Causes Bad Behavior isn't Evidence At All 
Many people make the assumption that music with suicidal themes is what causes teens to commit suicide. For example, the teens that I mentioned in part 2 that committed suicide all listened to music that had suicidal themes, and in all three cases, the music was blamed for the behavior. This assumption is not valid because it is not founded in any evidence. It is simply an assumption that is by no means necessarily true, and we know this because there is no evidence whatsoever that suggests that they would not have committed suicide without the music. The evidence actually contradicts that assumption because the vast majority of teens who listen to music with suicidal themes don't commit suicide. Why don't all the teens who listen to music that has suicidal themes at least attempt to commit suicide? The people who say that the music is the cause don't have an answer for that question, and the reason they do not is that the music is not the cause.  Additionally, although music has become more pervasive over the years, studies have shown that the youth crime rate has decreased significantly since 1994 [3]. If music is causing youth violence, the crime rate should be increasing as music gets more explicit, not decreasing. In the case of suicidal students, a study by researchers Pirkis and Blood in 2001 showed that the relationship between heavy metal and suicide is not one of cause and effect [4]. There have been many other studies that have also shown that negative music is not the cause for negative behavior [4] [6].
Why there is a Link between Negative Music and Bad Behavior
People may ask why, if music isn't the cause, do teens that exhibit bad behavior listen to negative music? The answer to that question is that the teens are drawn to this type of music because they identify with the lyrics. Teens often choose to listen to music that they identify with. If they feel that the music speaks to them in some way, meaning that they agree with what the music is saying, then they will listen to it. Teens also listen to music that their peers listen to due to peer pressure. In order to fit in with the "in" crowd, they will usually listen to the popular music of today, and much of that music is loaded with negative content. Essentially, the music is not the cause for the behavior; the behavior is the cause for the music!
Refutations of Other Arguments
People may cite the studies I mentioned earlier by APA that showed that listening to violent music caused the adolescents to fill in words with more violent endings, but these studies and others like them are insufficient evidence to prove a cause and effect relationship between music and bad behavior. The studies only show the effects of listening to music for a few moments. Additionally, the studies don't prove that the music has a lasting effect on teens. They only prove that teens will think about more violent things after listening to music. Saying that music is the cause for violent behavior (which is not the same as thinking about violence) is a huge leap from what these studies actually prove. Others cite studies that say that young women who watch videos that are degrading to women cause them to have more negative views of themselves [10]. Although this is true, this arguments has to do with music when it is accompanied by a visual, which is not the same  thing as what we are talking about here. Bringing up music videos is irrelevant because the danger lies with the visual representation of women. Also, studies have not shown that music by itself has the same effect, which makes this point even less credible.
Part 4: Where to Go From Here
Now that we've established that music does not cause bad behavior, the problem still remains: if we can't stop negative behavior by stopping teens from listening to music with negative lyrics, then how do we stop the behavior? The answer is that we must address the real issues. The main reason people like to blame the music for the problems teens have is that it is an easy scapegoat for the problems they see in teens. It is much easier to blame the music than to actually focus on the real issues that the teens have, however, that is what needs to be done. The negative behavior that teens exhibit can have a number of causes,  some of which are bullying, feeling inadequate due to poor grades, a general angry attitude, and many more. Some ways to deal with these problems are to talk to teens and try to figure out what they are thinking and feeling. Because most teens will listen to music they identify with, listening to the music that a teen listens to can actually help to ascertain the state of mind that the teen is in. For example, if a teen loves music that is filled with suicidal messages, then there is a good chance that the teens are listening to suicidal music because they are having suicidal thoughts. The same method applies for all different types of negative music and behavior. Teens need the love and support of their family in order to overcome the causes to their negative behavior. The only way to truly help teens is to focus on their real problems and not to use other things, such as music, as an excuse.