Violent Lyrics in Heavy Metal Music Can Increase Aggression in Males?
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Klinesmith, Kasser, and McAndrew (2006) demonstrated that handling a gun caused males to aggress more in an experiment where they spiked a cup of water with hot sauce, believing that another subject would drink it. They also determined that the increase in aggression was mediated by testosterone levels that were raised by handling the gun. This is a well-accepted, reliable and valid technique for measuring aggression in the laboratory (Lieberman, Solomon, Greenberg, & McGregor, 1999).
We used the design of the Klinesmith et al study to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the role played by violent lyrics in heavy metal music in causing aggressive behavior, and whether such lyrics operate in the same fashion as the guns in the aforementioned study. Anecdotal arguments notwithstanding, the experimental evidence regarding this matter is quite mixed (Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks, 2003; Arnett, 1991; Ballard & Coates, 1995; Fried, 2006; Gowensmith & Bloom, 1997).
Thirty-five male college students (age range = 18-22) were recruited from undergraduate psychology classes to participate in a study described as being about the relationship between auditory stimulation and taste sensitivity. The students received course credit for their participation. They were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups: A group that listened to heavy metal music that had been pretested and judged to have violent lyrics (n=11; the songs were “Bloodmeat” and “Limb from Limb” performed by Protest the Hero), and a group that listened to similar heavy metal songs pretested and judged to have no violent lyrics (n=12; the songs were “Bounce,” “Old School Hollywood,” and “I-E-A-I-A-I-O” performed by System of a Down), and a control group that listened to no music at all and sat silently in the room waiting for the next part of the experiment. Saliva samples were taken prior to and after an eight-minute music exposure, and the subjects also engaged in a bogus taste-rating task. Each participant was then given a cup filled with 115 mg of water and a bottle of hot sauce and was instructed to prepare a taste sample for the next experimental subject. The dependent variable was the weight, in milligrams, of hot sauce that the subject added to the cup of water which was weighed before and after the hot sauce was added.
Unfortunately, a refrigeration failure damaged the saliva samples, precluding an analysis of the testosterone data. However, a one-way analysis of variance revealed that there was a powerful effect of the experimental manipulation on aggression. The group exposed to the violent lyrics added significantly more hot sauce to the water than either of the other two groups, which were not significantly different from each other, F (2, 32) = 4.37, p < .02, Cohen’s d = .85 & .86, Mean (SD): 16.05 (24.20) vs. 1.41 (1.71) vs. 1.29 (2.09).
Our results do not allow us to draw conclusions about the relationship between violent heavy metal lyrics and testosterone, but we found clear evidence that exposure to such lyrics was linked to aggressive behavior in this study. Although there was no check to see if the subjects had guessed the hypothesis, given the strong similarities between the songs in terms of volume, tempo, and other musical qualities, the lyrics themselves seem to be the primary agent acting on the behavior.
Anderson, C. A., Carnagey, N. L., & Eubanks, J. (2003). Exposure to violent media: The effects of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 960-971.
Arnett, J. (1991). Adolescents and heavy metal music. Youth and Society, 23, 76-98.
Ballard, M. E., & Coates, S. (1995). The immediate effects of homicidal, suicidal, and nonviolent heavy metal and rap songs on the moods of college students. Youth and Society, 27, 148-168.
Fried, C. B. (2006). Bad rap for rap: Bias in reactions to music lyrics. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 2135-2146.
Gowensmith, W. N., & Bloom, L. J. (1997). The effects of heavy metal music on arousal and anger. Journal of Music Therapy, 34, 33-45.
Klinesmith, J., Kasser, T., & McAndrew, F. T. (2006). Guns, testosterone, and aggression: An experimental test of a meditational hypothesis. Psychological Science, 17, 568-571.
Lieberman, J. D., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & McGregor, H. A. (1999). A hot new way to measure aggression: Hot sauce allocation. Aggressive Behavior, 25, 331-348.
John F. Mast and Francis T. McAndrew
John F. Mast and Francis T. McAndrew
Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: Dr. Francis T. McAndrew, Department of Psychology, Knox College, 2 East South Street, Galesburg, IL, 61401-4999 e-mail: email@example.com
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