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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
BOEGLIN, N. T. (2000). The Correlation Between People`s Music Preferences and Their Sex Role Perceptions. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2022 .

The Correlation Between People`s Music Preferences and Their Sex Role Perceptions

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
The present study examined the correlation between people’s preferred genre of music and their perceptions of the roles of the sexes. It was hypothesized that those people who listen mostly to heavy metal, rap, or country would tend to view the roles of males and females in skewed or biased manners. Musical preference was measured with a five-point Likert scale from which the participants gauged how often they listened to rap, heavy metal, country, pop, and other forms of rock. Sex role perception was measured by the Bem Sex Role Inventory and three selected scales from the Sexual Attitudes Survey. The convenience sample was comprised of 34 freshman psychology majors (26 female, 8 male) at Loyola University New Orleans. The results indicated that the participants who listened to heavy metal or rap on a consistent basis tended to have more biased views of the sex roles, while country, pop and “other” listeners showed no such inclinations. Though some very strong correlations between the variables were found, there was not enough significant data to reject the entire null hypothesis.

Throughout the years – and especially in the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries – the mass media have played as big a role in shaping and influencing society as anything else. People take in all the messages they receive from television, periodicals, the Internet, and music, try to sort them all out, and use them as a guide to living their life. As the first year of the new millennium draws to a close, the media are bombarding its patrons with more information than ever, and its shadow of influence grows ever longer. One drum that the media have always beaten with a heavy mallet is the stereotypical depiction of the roles of the sexes. Males have almost always been portrayed as the more dominant, more clever, more aggressive sex, while the media usually show females as more submissive, more demure, and more sensitive. People who use the media as their primary source of information and influence – and these days, most people do – know no other image of men or women, and they believe that these depictions of the sexes represent how life is, or is supposed to be. As children grow up, they are endlessly bombarded with these sex-role images. By the time they start to mature, they already have concrete notions as to how they should act in regard to their gender. It is a cycle – children see their parents and other elders act in accordance with the images and identities the media have always shown, and through observation and imitation of these two prominent components of their lives, these children adopt the expected sex role (Britain & Coker, 1982). Perhaps the most influential and lucrative facet of the media is music. Music is the omnipresent and ever-evolving peer which continuously influences our minds and our actions, whether we are conscious of it or not (Freudiger & Almquist, 1978). Yet its effects and/or relationships regarding people’s thoughts and thought processes has not been a widely studied topic. In 1978, Freudiger and Almquist noted that while many studies had been conducted on the effects of advertising, textbooks, and television programs on people’s perceptions of sex roles, very few studies had been done on the relationship between music and sex-role perception. This is still true today, which is surprising since, in recent years, several genres of music – heavy metal and rap, in particular – have come under fire in the courts and popular press for promoting and conveying negative messages, especially in their portrayal of the roles of the sexes. While there have not been an abundance of studies examining the link between musical genres and the perceptions of sex roles among their respective listeners, those that have studies it – or related aspects – have discovered some interesting trends. St. Lawrence and Joyner (1991) established that even brief exposure to heavy metal music could produce negative effects on males’ stereotyping sex roles, their attitudes toward women, adversarial sexual beliefs, and acceptance of interpersonal violence against women. St. Lawrence and Joyner randomly assigned 75 college males (all between the ages 18-24) to listen to sexually violent heavy metal, Christian heavy metal, or classical music. After the participants had listened to their respective music – a procedure which only took 17 minutes – they filled out the Bem Sex Role Inventory, the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, and the Sexual Attitude Survey (which includes a sex role stereotyping scale). Despite the short amount of time the participants had actually listened to the music, some obvious trends were discovered. Those participants who were exposed to sexually violent or Christian heavy metal scored significantly higher on the sex-role stereotyping measure and the Attitude Toward Women Scale than did those who were exposed to the classical music. Heavy metal is not the only musical genre to raise suspicions in this regard. In fact, these days, it may not even be the most threatening genre. Rap music has also been the subject of similar, more recent studies. A staple of the underground scene for years, rap – and especially “gangsta” rap – has leapt into the mainstream in recent years, and has brought with it its harsh, callous themes of sexual violence against and the objectification of women (Wester, Crown, Quatman, & Heesacker, 1997). Many concerned citizens have formed groups (such as The Parents Music Resource Center) in opposition to and as a combatant against gangsta rap and its effects on listeners (Wester et al., 1997). But despite the public uproar, only a handful of studies have been done on rap and its effects on people’s thoughts and ideas. One of the studies (Wester et al., 1997) which has been conducted on this notion used St. Lawrence and Joyner’s 1991 study on heavy metal music as a basis, and, like St. Lawrence and Joyner, measured participants’ perceptions of sex roles with the Sexual Attitude Survey and the Attitudes Toward Women Scale. In this study, 60 male, predominantly white college students (all between the ages 18-24) were randomly divided into four equal subgroups. Depending on which subgroup each was assigned, the participants were exposed to gangsta rap music and lyrics, gangsta rap music with no lyrics, gangsta rap lyrics with no music, or no gangsta rap music and no lyrics. After about 25 minutes of being exposed to their respective music, the participants then completed the two surveys. Overall, the results were not as staggering as those in the St. Lawrence & Joyner study (1991). But the results did suggest that those who had been exposed to gangsta rap lyrics tended to view their relationships with women as more adversarial than those who had not been exposed to the gangsta rap lyrics. But this is not to necessarily say that rap has limited effects on people’s perceptions of males and females. Keep in mind that the participants in the study were white, male college students with little or no prior exposure to gangsta rap. Being exposed to it for 25 minutes seems hardly enough to alter one’s views of an entire gender. In St. Lawrence and Joyner’s study (1991) on heavy metal, nine percent of the participants admitted that they listened to heavy metal regularly, and many more acknowledged that they listened to it more than occasionally. Thus, these participants would be more likely to have the suggested perceptions of sex roles than those in the Wester et al. study (1997), who had barely, if at all, been exposed to gangsta rap. Even though the two studies mentioned above examined the effect of music on the sex-role perception of males only, researchers realize that females may also be susceptible to this tendency – perhaps more so. Johnson, Adams, Ashburn, and Reed (1995) measured the effect rap has on the perceptions of gender roles for both males and females. Johnson’s research team had 30 African American male adolescents and 30 African American female adolescents. Half of the males and half of the females were exposed to gangsta rap videos, while the other half of the participants were not. All of the participants were then asked several questions regarding their acceptance of violence against women. There was little variance in the acceptance of violent behavior against women among those males who had been exposed to the rap videos and those who had not. But surprisingly, there was a significant difference among the female participants. Those females who had been exposed to the rap videos showed a much greater acceptance of violence against women than those who had not been exposed to the videos. This study evoked feelings of concern not only in the field of psychology, but throughout the general public as well. It showed that exposure to rap has the capability to make females feel and think how they are expected to feel and thing by the males who are exposed to rap. While heavy metal and rap tend to take the stereotypical sex roles to the extreme – with women being depicted as overly submissive and vulnerable to exceedingly aggressive and dominant men – country music depicts the sex roles in an extremely traditional way (Freudiger & Almquist, 1978). In the predominantly white, somewhat uneducated, rural, working class world of country music and its listeners, life follows the path of the music with which it identifies. Women of this subculture are not loved for their beauty or external values, and are viewed simply as supportive, submissive, and dependent. Men in the world of country music – both in real life and the music – are regarded as aggressive, demanding, active and confident, yet not independent. Country music lyrics habitually depict socially frustrated men who act out their frustrations with their traditional male traits – which can often include violent and abusive behavior, even against “their woman.” Subsequently, these lyrics also reinforce the role of the woman as the submissive sidekick who blindly supports her man, even in the face of mistreatment. The people who listen to country music have, for the most part, maintained their traditional views of the sexes (Freudiger & Almquist, 1978). While all of these studies and analyses have looked at whether listening to a certain type of music can change – or at least influence – people’s views of the sex roles, none of them examined the correlation between people’s preferred genre of music and their perceptions of the roles of the sexes. All of the studies simply exposed some participants to a type of music for a few minutes and then tested their attitudes toward the gender roles to try to find a difference. The goal of the present study was to ascertain people’s preferred music genres, then determine their perception of sex roles, and try to discern a correlation between the two. The idea was decided upon after years of observation by both of the researchers – observation of the different thoughts, ideas, mannerisms, and actions relating to the sexes that are displayed by different people who listen to certain types of music. Based on this lifelong observation and past research, it was thus hypothesized that those participants who primarily listen to heavy metal music or rap will show a greater acceptance of interpersonal violence (especially against women) and view their relationships with the opposite sex as more adversarial, while assessing themselves as being more masculine in their thoughts and emotions; those participants who mainly listen to country music will view the roles of men and women – and thus, themselves in relation to their gender – very traditionally and stereotypically; and those participants who primarily listen to other forms of rock or pop / top 40 will have fairly equivalent views of the sexes and their roles in society.


Thirty-four freshman psychology majors at Loyola University New Orleans who were in the Learning Community classes were selected through convenience sampling. The one hundred participants consisted of 26 females and eight males, all of whom participated on a voluntary basis, and some of whom received course credit for their participation.

The participants signed two informed consent forms (one for the investigators to keep for their records and one for them to keep as proof of their voluntary participation). These forms gave the investigators’ names, addresses and phone numbers, in case the participants needed to get in touch with them at any time. There was also a space for the participants to provide their respective addresses, so the investigators could mail them the results. The informed consent forms briefly outlined the study and made the participants aware of their rights and safety. The participants then filled out a questionnaire, which consisted of one survey created by the investigators and two published surveys (a complete copy of the questionnaire can be found in the Appendix). The first section of the questionnaire (the section created by the investigators) asked participants’ demographic information (sex, age, etc.). Following this was a five-point Likert scale on which the participants revealed how often they listened to each of the five music genres listed: heavy metal, other forms of rock, rap / hip hop, country, and pop / top 40. This was followed by the second section, comprised of the two published surveys: The Bem Sex Role Inventory (Bem, 1972) and three selected scales – Sex role stereotyping, Adversarial sexual beliefs, and Acceptance of interpersonal violence – from the Sexual Attitude Survey (Burt, 1980). The Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) rates how one views oneself in terms of the traditional sex roles. It has 60 descriptors – 20 masculine, 20 feminine, and 20 neutral – for which each the participant marks the self-descriptiveness using a seven-point Likert scale. The three selected scales of the Sexual Attitude Survey was combined into a 24-question survey, with each item making a statement about the roles of men and women in society and in relation to each other. The items were scored from a five-point Likert scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

The current study was non-experimental/correlational, as it examined the correlation between music preference and the perception of sex roles. Variable one was the genre of music, and it had five levels: heavy metal, other forms of rock (soft rock, contemporary rock, classic rock, and oldies), rap / hip hop, country, and pop / top 40. Variable two was the perception of the roles of the sexes. Variable one was measured using a five-point Likert scale from which the participants scored how often they listened to each type of music. Two separate scales measured variable two: the BSRI measured how masculine or feminine each participant measured himself or herself, and the three selected scales – Sex role stereotyping (SRS), Adversarial sexual beliefs (ASB), and Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence (AIV) – measured the participants’ views on men’s and women’s roles in society and with each other. As this was a correlational study, the researchers did not employ any controls. The investigators met the participants in room 469 of Monroe Hall on the campus of Loyola University New Orleans. They then introduced themselves, made the participants aware of the nature of the study, and answered any questions that the participants had. After all the questions had been answered, the investigators handed out the two informed consent forms to each participant and instructed them to read thoroughly and sign each one. The participants then gave one informed consent form back to the investigators (so the investigators could have a copy for their records) kept the other for themselves (to have proof that they had voluntarily participated in this study). After the investigators had a signed informed consent form from each participant, they then distributed a copy of the questionnaire to each participant. The participants were given 15 minutes to complete the questionnaire, and the investigators collected each questionnaire as they were finished. Every participant finished in the allotted time. Once all the questionnaires had been picked up, the investigators debriefed the participants. They told the participants the exact nature of the study, what they had hypothesized, and why they had decided to study such a topic. They then answered any other questions that the participants had and assured them that they could contact one of (or both of) the investigators if they had any lingering questions or problems after they left. After the investigators were sure that every participant understood all of this, they thanked them for volunteering and taking the time to participate in the study, and dismissed them.

The researchers found the Spearman rank-order correlation coefficients for one-tailed significance between all the variables used in the study (sex, each type of music, each test score). The probability of a Type 1 error was maintained at .05 for all correlational analyses. Female participants outnumbered male participants 26 – 8 in the study. Still, males had a significant positive correlation with heavy metal (r = .472, p = .002). Heavy metal listening habits had significant positive correlation with the AIV (r = .384, p = .012), the ASB (r = .443, p = 004), and a strong – but not significant – positive correlation with the SRS (r = .241, p = .085). Those participants who selected 2,3, or 4 for heavy metal on the music preference survey had a mean score of 5.9 on the AIV (X = 3.8), an 11.2 on the ASB (X = 10), and a 12.3 on the SRS (X = 11.3). The correlation between heavy metal listening and masculinity on the BSRI was very weak (r = -.047, p = .395), but it correlated with femininity even less (r = -.041, p = .409). Listening to rap also correlated significantly in a positive direction with the AIV (r = .358, p = .019), and strongly with the SRS (r = .255, p = .073); but there was no correlation between rap and the ASB (r = -.022, p = .450). The participants who marked 2,3,or 4 for rap on the music preference survey had a mean score of 4.6 on the AIV (X = 3.8), a 12.0 on the SRS (X = 11.3), and simply a 10 on the ASB (X = 10). The correlation between rap listening tendencies and masculinity on the BSRI was very weak (r = .088, p = .310), and was only slightly less than its correlation with femininity (r = .108, p = .272). Out of the 34 participants, only 18 marked above a 0 for country music on the music preference survey. Country music listening did not correlate at all with any of the three scales – on the AIV, r = .004, p = .491; on the SRS, r = .073, p = .340; on the ASB, r = -.084, p = .319. Those participants who marked a 2,3, or 4 for country on the music preference survey had mean scores nearly parallel to the sample means on the three scales. On the BSRI, country music had a strong positive correlation with femininity (r = .4296, p = .006).The femininity scale of the BSRI correlated strongly with pop (r = .283, p = .052) and significantly with other forms of rock (r = .344, p = .023). Pop listening tendencies had a significant negative correlation with the SRS (r = -.314, p = .035) and a strong negative correlation with the ASB (r = -.247, p = .079). People who selected 1 or 2 for pop on the music preference survey had higher mean scores on the SRS (13.4, X = 11.3) and on the ASB (12.7, X = 10.0). The “other forms of rock” category did not correlate strongly with any of the three surveys.

The results yielded by the sample revealed some interesting and expected trends, but there were not enough significant data to support the entire sum of the hypotheses. There was a significant positive correlation between listening to heavy metal and scores on the Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence scale and the Adversarial Sexual Beliefs scale. These findings concur with those of St. Lawrence and Joyner (1991) and support the hypothesized idea that the more one listens to heavy metal, the more accepting he or she will be of interpersonal violence and the more adversarially he or she will view relationships with the opposite sex. A positive correlation was also detected between scores on the AIV and listening to rap. This is in accord with the findings of Johnson et al. (1995), which revealed that exposure to rap can lead to a greater acceptance of and indifference toward interpersonal violence not only among males, but with females as well. However, while Wester et al. (1997) found that rap can lead people to view relationships with the opposite sex more adversarially, the present data found no such correlation. Interestingly, both rap and heavy metal listening had a strong – though not significant – positive correlation with scores on the SRS. However, this was not hypothesized by the current researchers – they believed that listening to rap and metal would be somewhat related to sex-role stereotyping, but the correlation was much stronger than they ever anticipated. They believed that the SRS would significantly correlate with country music listening. However, country music – as well as “other forms of rock” – did not correlate with the SRS or any of the other surveys at all. While nothing absolute could be determined for the pop music category, the results did significantly show that the less the participants listened to pop, the higher they scored on the SRS and ASB. This indicates a tendency for those who do not listen to pop to be more stereotypical and adversarial regarding the sex roles, and indirectly supports the hypothesized idea that people who listen to pop have very equivalent views of males and females in society.While St. Lawrence and Joyner (1991), Wester et al. (1997), and Johnson et al. (1995) looked at the cause-effect relationship music genres can have on people’s sex-role perceptions, the present study aimed to examine the correlation between people’s tendencies to listen to certain types of music and how they perceive the roles of the sexes. Through constant observation of music genres and people’s sex role perceptions, the investigators proposed an interesting question to themselves and, in a sense, to the entertainment industry and the people of the world. They set out to determine whether the messages and images conveyed in various types of music help formulate – or, for the present research’s sake, correlate with – their listeners’ mindsets and thought processes regarding sex roles. For years, rap has come under fire for its harsh images toward violence and degrading messages about women that many of its listeners seem to agree with. Before rap, heavy metal was catching all the flack for influencing its listeners. In the 1980s, there were more than a few court cases (e.g., Vance/Belknap vs. Judas Priest, 1986) where heavy metal – whose thrashing beats and dark, violent images threatened many people – took the stand as the defendant. These cases tried to determine whether a person who mainly listens to heavy metal music could be so influenced by it over a long period of time that he or she begins to live the life of treachery, murder, and promiscuity depicted in the music. Because of these instances and countless others like them throughout the music industry over the years, the researchers wanted to try to study the relationship between people’s music preferences and their sex role perceptions. They wanted to see whether those people who mainly listen to rap do indeed have a tendency to view men as overly dominant and independent and women as overly submissive sex objects, and whether or not they tend to be more accepting of interpersonal violence. They wanted see whether those people who primarily listen to heavy metal do, in fact, have more negative attitudes toward women and are more indifferent toward interpersonal violence. They wanted to see whether those people who are more inclined to listen to country music really have more traditional and stereotypical views of men and women. They believe that strong significant findings resulting from this study or others similar to it would provide the courts and the public in general with a better understanding of exactly how listening to certain types of music is related to having certain perceptions of the roles of the sexes.While the researchers were able to reject several pieces of the null hypothesis, there were just as many pieces which could not be rejected because of highly insignificant and inconclusive data. The researchers believe that if a few things in the study could have been altered, the results yielded would have been much more conclusive and supportive of the hypothesis. There were a number of sample limitations with which the researchers had to work. For starters, the sample was small, non-representative, and convenience-based – all 34 participants were freshman psychology majors from the same private university. With a correlational study that covers the wide range of people and cultures that this one does, it is imperative that – in order to get truly accurate results – the sample be large and representative of all groups included in the hypothesis. On a whole, the type of people who attend such a university is not at all representative of the type of people who make up the majority of the listening audience for rap, heavy metal, or even country. In addition to its restricted nature, the size of the sample, as well as its male to female ratio were less than ideal. The researchers were only able to administer their study on 34 people, much less than what is needed when examining such a diverse population that encompasses such a vast amount of people. Twenty-six of those 34 participants were females, while only eight were males. Again, in a study which draws from a population is so big and diverse, and especially in a study which examines male/female issues, the more equal the ratio of male to female participants, the more accurate the results will be.

Britain, S.D., & Coker, M. (1982). Recall of sex-role appropriate and inappropriate models in children`s songs. Sex Roles, 8, 931-934. Burt, M.R. (1980). Cultural myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 217-230. Freudiger, P., & Almquist, M. (1978). Male and female roles in the lyrics of three genres of contemporary music. Sex Roles, 4, 51-65. Johnson, J.D., Adams, M.S., Ashburn, L., & Reed, W. (1995). Differential gender effects of exposure to rap music on African American adolescents` acceptance of teen dating violence. Sex Roles, 33, 597-604.St. Lawrence, J.S., & Joyner, D.J. (1991). The effects of sexually violent rock music on males` acceptance of violence against women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 49-63. Toney, G.T., & Weaver, J.B. (1994). Effects of gender and gender role self-perceptions on affective reactions to rock music videos. Sex Roles, 30, 567-583. Wester, S.R, Crown, C.L., Quatman, G.L., & Heesacker, M. (1997). The influence of sexually violent rap music on attitudes of men with little prior exposure. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 497-508.

Music Preference and Sex Role Perception Questionnaire

1. Age: _____ years old2. Sex (circle one): Male / Female3. Major: _______________4. Minor: _______________5. Year (circle one): Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 6. If you are currently a student, what school do you attend? ___________________________________

7. For the following genres of music, please indicate how often you listen to each one by selecting the corresponding number from the following scale:

Never Occasionally Sometimes Often Always :----------:------------:------------:-----------: 0 1 2 3 4

a. Rap / Hip Hop _______ b. Heavy Metal _______ c. Other forms of rock _______ (soft, modern, and classic rock, and oldies) d. Country _______ e. Pop / Top 40 _______

The three selected scales from the Sexual Attitudes Survey:

This survey will measure the attitudes among males and females in everyday life situations. Please fill it out by marking the number of how strongly you agree with each statement:

Str Disagree Mild Disagree Neutral Mild Agree Str Agree :-----------:-----------:-----------:------------: 0 1 2 3 4

_____ 1. A man should fight when the woman he’s with is insulted by another man._____ 2. It is acceptable for the woman to pay for the date._____ 3. A woman should be a virgin when she marries._____ 4. There is something wrong with a woman who doesn’t want to marry and raise a family._____ 5. A wife should never contradict her husband in public._____ 6. It is better for a woman to use her feminine charm to get what she wants rather than asking for it outright._____ 7. It is acceptable for a woman to have a career, but marriage and family should come first._____ 8. It looks worse for a woman to be drunk than for a man to be drunk._____ 9. There is nothing wrong with a woman going to a bar alone._____ 10. A woman will only respect a man who will lay down the law to her._____ 11. Many women are so demanding sexually that a man just can’t satisfy them._____ 12. A man’s got to show the woman who’s boss right from the start or he’ll end up henpecked._____ 13. Women are usually sweet until they’ve caught a man, but then they let their true self show._____ 14. A lot of men talk big, but when it comes down to it, they can’t perform well sexually._____ 15. In a dating relationship a woman is largely out to take advantage of a man._____ 16. Men are out for only one thing._____ 17. Most women are sly and manipulating when they are out to attract a man._____ 18. A lot of women seem to get pleasure in putting down men._____ 19. People today should not use “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” as a rule for living._____ 20. Being roughed up is sexually stimulating to many women._____ 21. Many times a woman will pretend she doesn’t want to have intercourse because she doesn’t want to seem loose, but she’s really hoping the man will force her._____ 22. A wife should move out of the house if her husband hits her._____ 23. Sometimes the only way a man can get a cold woman turned is to use force._____ 24. A man is never justified in hitting his wife.

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