do violent songs make violent kids?

Eminem may be more dangerous than you know. Songs with violent lyrics increase violent thoughts and feelings, according to a study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The findings contradict the notion that listening to angry music provides a positive, cathartic effect. Researchers from Iowa State University and the Texas Department of Human Services examined the effects of violent song lyrics from groups such as Tool and Cypress Hill on over 500 college students. Those exposed scored higher on aggression in psychological tests. For example, they were more likely to interpret words that have ambiguous meanings, such as animal and stick, as aggressive, and were also more likely to fill in word fragments, such as h–t, to make an aggressive word such as “hit” rather than a non-aggressive word such as “hat.” The researchers only studied precursors to aggression, not aggressive behavior itself, and as the study authors note, the hostile thought priming of violent songs may last only a fairly short time: “Presumably, if the next song heard is nonviolent . . . the short-term priming effects of violent lyrics will dissipate.” They do suggest, however, that repeated exposure to violent lyrics may contribute to a more aggressive personality.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 5/20/2003.
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