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KING, S.,MCCONNELL, J., ORR, M,SCHREIBER, T., TRIN (2002). Effects of Rap and Heavy Metal Music Lyrics on Adolescent Behaviors. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 6, 2022 .

Effects of Rap and Heavy Metal Music Lyrics on Adolescent Behaviors

Sponsored by: TOM TREADWELL (ttreadwe@albie.wcupa.edu)
This study is designed to examine whether the lyrics of heavy metal and rap music have an effect on the mood, suicidal ideation, aggression, and stereotyping of adolescents. Heavy metal and rap music lyrics have been blamed for an increase in adolescent suicide and aggression, however the studies conducted so far have only suggested a correlation between the music and the adolescents’ behavior. This study involves listening to heavy metal and rap music in three groups while playing foosball: one will hear the music with lyrics, one will hear just the music without lyrics, and the control group will not hear any music. Aggression will be measured in a 3 by 1, between-subjects design experiment.

Effects of Rap and Heavy Metal Music Lyrics on Adolescent Behavior The introduction of rock and roll music in the 1950’s brought with it the fear that its lyrics and new rhythms would adversely affect young listeners. That fear has carried over into the twenty-first century, but now the criticism is focused primarily on heavy metal and rap. It has been suggested that the lyrics in these types of music promote aggression, bigotry, deviant sexual activity, suicide, violence, drug use, and homicide (Ballard & Dodson, 1999). This topic is significant since it is an issue that is debated feverishly by record companies, artists, censorship supporters, parent groups, and even our federal government. This issue also arises in the field of medicine. The American Academy of Pediatrics fears that rock lyrics are potential threats to the health and well being of adolescents. These concerns include pregnancy, drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, accidents, and suicide. (Mendelson, 1989). Physicians view adolescence as a difficult period because of the biological and psychological changes that occur. Young people are also expected to develop a solid set of moral values through their perceptions of adult standards and behaviors. Physicians use music preferences as clues to the emotional and mental health of their adolescent patients. Music containing explicit lyrics can skew and misrepresent the realities of the outside world. Rock music tends to symbolize the adolescent themes of rebellion and autonomy. Rap music is infamous for its inflammatory remarks towards women. Thus the two most popular forms of music for adolescents revolve around themes of disrespect and sexual imagery (Brown & Hendee, 1989). Furthermore, the effects music lyrics have on mood, suicidal ideation, aggression, and stereotyping have been questioned. Studies that have been conducted on music preference link preference with various social conditions or behaviors. Wass, Miller, & Stevenson (1989) found that students who listened to music that promotes homicide, suicide, or satanic practices were more likely to have remarried or unmarried parents and more likely to be white males in urban public schools. Another study found that there is a strong correlation between a preference for rock music that has destructive themes and antisocial or destructive behavior (Wass, Miller, & Redditt, 1991). In addition, there is a link between preference for heavy metal or rap and below average grades, behavioral problems, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and arrests (Took & Weiss, 1994). It is important to note that correlational studies do not verify any cause and effect relationship heavy metal or rap and a given behavior. Other studies have focused on whether music lyrics can be directly blamed for the rise in adolescent suicide. The general consensus of these studies is that while there may be a connection between music and suicide, suicidal ideation, and thoughts of suicide (Scheel & Westefeld, 1999), there is no empirical data that links heavy metal or rap to suicidal behavior (Ballard & Coates, 1995). These conclusions, however, have not stopped lawsuits from being filed holding music liable for the suicides of young people. The rock band Judas Priest was blamed for the suicide of two males, 18 and 20 years of age. The court found that while the music did have a “toxic influence” or a negative effect on adolescents, it could not solely be blamed for the actions of the youths (Litman & Farberow, 1994). The basis for this proposal is due to the limited amount of research on music and adolescents, and the effect it has on behaviors, such as aggression and violence. One study on rap music did find some variations in the behavior of its subjects. Litman (1997) states those groups who listened to rap music with lyrics demonstrated slightly higher tendency toward verbal aggression than the subjects in a non-lyric group and a non-music control group. In this study, 60 males in grades three through five were matched in pairs and were given a music preference questionnaire to complete. Each pair, or dyad, was then videotaped while playing a game of table hockey. The same tasks were accomplished by dyads in each of the three conditions. Pairs that were in the music with lyrics group showed a slightly higher tendency to verbal and nonverbal aggressive behavior, especially in the competitive table hockey exercise, implying that the lyrics are more influential than the music or beat. The question of whether or not the lyrical content of songs causes negative mood such as sadness, depression, nervousness or anger has been studied. Ballard and Coats (1995) conducted research to determine if music or lyrical content had an immediate effect on suicidal ideation or state anxiety. They had volunteers listen to six different songs that were either heavy metal or rap crossed with three different lyrical themes. The three themes were nonviolent, homicidal, and suicidal lyrics. In order to insure that the participants would listen carefully to the lyrics without giving an indication of what the true nature of the study was, the experimenters told the participants they were being tested for memory for lyrics. They were then given a Beck Depression Inventory, which measures for depression, state anxiety, and suicidal ideation. The results indicated that neither music nor lyrical content had an immediate effect on state anxiety. Conversely, the non-violent rap songs elicited higher scores on the Beck Depression Inventory then violent rap songs. Researchers who conducted another study had participants read either sad or happy lyrics while listening to instrumental music to measure if the lyrics had any effect on one’s mood. The results indicated that the lyrical content had no effect on mood (Sousou, 1997). Contradictory to the Litman (1997) study, Prinsky & Rosenbaum (1987) suggest that adolescents do not interpret correctly or comprehend the messages of the songs’ lyrics, and that they feel that the lyrics are the least important reason for liking a song. Given that premise, Ballard and Dodson (1999) hypothesized that the expectations of the particular music style caused the subsequent negative behavior/mood. They conducted research that involved participants reading either pro-social or anti-social lyrics assigned as heavy metal, rap, country, or pop. The participants then rated the songs. Results indicated that regardless of the type of lyrics, heavy metal and rap were rated more likely to inspire antisocial behavior, thus negative mood. These articles seem to suggest that the actual lyrics have little effect on creating a certain mood in individuals, but rather it’s the expectations of the particular music. Wass, Miller, & Stevenson (1989) suggest that there is a link between the race of the audience and the race of the singer or group. This could be a strong factor in stereotyping that might explain why there is a relationship between the behavior and music. For example: a heavy metal band consisting of Caucasian male members may have Caucasian male fans that dress in similar fashion as the band and participate in violent behaviours. However, the majority of Caucasian males acting in a violent manner could be traced back to the heavy metal band because of similar clothing, music, social taste, etc., thus stereotyping the band as violent (Wass, Miller, & Redditt, 1991). Therefore, the band may be stereotyped as violent, and the audience will process the information from that band as violent. This could be similar to the situation with rap and African Americans (Fried, 1996). However, the results from a study conducted by Joyer & St. Lawerence (1991) contradict this notion of indirect stereotyping. This study supports the idea of rock music having a direct effect on stereotyping. The feminist researchers concluded that exposure to heavy metal rock music increased males stereotyping on sex roles inventories and increased their negative attitude toward women. This suggests that it is not the fans of a particular band, but the music itself that increases stereotyping and negative attitudes. This conflict emphasizes the need for more research in this area.One study measured the relationship between musical genre and the race of the singer on reactions to violent song lyrics. The researchers wanted to see if pre-existing thoughts and stereotypes affect how new information is processed. Specifically, they wanted to see if the African American stereotype of being violent, hostile and aggressive is being used. One rap song and one folk song were used in the experiment. Results indicated that when either song was associated with a African American singer or as rap, the participants viewed the lyrics as being offensive and in need of government regulation (Fried, 1996). This study seems to suggest that it is not the actual lyrics but the genre and race of the singer that creates a negative connotation towards the song. The studies performed by Wass, Miller and Redditt (1991) seem to reiterate our hypothesis that anti-social lyrics will create an increase in violent or aggressive behavior. Contrary to this viewpoint are the results of an experiment performed by Prinsky and Rosenbaum (1987) which suggests that the listeners like the song because of the music, while the lyrics are ignored. Adolescents are not oblivious to what the lyrics are saying or insinuating. Another confirmatory article of the hypothesis comes from Litman’s (1997) study on rap music and verbal aggression. His study created a naturalistic setting where the behaviors of the participants supported the idea of rap music giving rise to verbal aggression. This study lays the foundation for our hypothesis and the results indicate what we have been speculating. The experiment is a variation of the one performed by Litman (1997) with a few slight modifications. Although the research we accumulated consists of contradictory findings, there is solid evidence that aggressive behavior is influenced by explicit song lyrics. Overall, the literature reviewed demonstrates the need for additional studies to be performed, since only a limited amount of research has been done on the effects of lyrics on adolescent behavior.


One hundred and twenty high school students between the ages of 13 and 18 (60 males and 60 females) from three different suburban school districts in the North-eastern United States will be randomly selected to participate in this experiment. Students will be required to provide their signature as well as the signature of their parents and principals on a consent form. The participants will then be randomly assigned to three separate groups (see Appendix A).

Inventories The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), the State-trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), and the State-trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAEI) will be administered in a pre-test and post-test. The Beck Depression Inventory is a twenty-six-question survey that rates feelings of depression on a continuum scale from zero to three. Higher scores indicate a higher level of depression. Some of the headings involve feelings of guilt, loss of interest, self-dislike and amount of crying. The State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory is a fifty-seven-item inventory that measures the intensity of anger as an emotional state and the disposition to experience angry feelings as a personality trait. It consists of six scales: Trait Anger, Anger Expression-Out, Anger Expression-In, Anger Control-Out, Anger Control-In and State Anger. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory is a self-evaluation designed to measure anxiety proneness and the current level of tension and apprehension state.Songs The following heavy metal songs will be used; Slipknot’s “Surfacing”, Bile’s “In league”, and Marilyn Manson’s “Irresponsible Hate Anthem”. Rap songs will be comprised of Tupac Shakur’s, “Hit’em Up”, Ice Cube’s, “No Vaseline” and finally Eminem’s “Kim.” These songs contain negative lyrics (see Appendix D). Equipment There will be three identical rooms. In each room there will be a foosball table, proper music equipment, microphones, and hidden cameras.

Participant will be told that they are participating in a study on how kids use “Sportco’s” new line of foosball tables (see Appendix A). Subjects will be randomly assigned to one of three conditions, either the control group, or one of two experimental groups, each containing 40 participants. Each session will consist of four subjects at a time playing foosball for 24 minutes. There will be two subjects per team and two teams per foosball game. Room one will be free of any music or lyrics playing. Subjects in room two will listen to rap and heavy metal music without the lyrics. Participants in room three will listen to rap and heavy metal music with negative lyrics. In rooms two and three the genre of the music will alternate. In other words, after each rap song, a heavy metal song will play. The decibel level in rooms two and three will be identical, and will remain constant. The six songs are approximately four minutes in duration; thus each game of foosball will last roughly twenty-four minutes. The students will be pre-tested with the BDI, the STAI, and the STAEI questionnaires. The post-test will look just like the pre-test; this will pin point any patterns or discrepancies in the scoring. This is a between-subjects experiment so each participant will only be tested in one room. Each act of aggression either verbal or physical will be recorded using video and audio recording equipment and tallied using the aggressive behavior tally sheet (see Appendix C). Once all subjects complete the experiment they will be given a debriefing explaining the true nature of our experiment. This will be done in the schools respective auditorium (see Appendix B).

Ballard, M. E., & Dodson, A. R. (1999). Genre of music and lyrical content: Expectation effects. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 160(4), 476.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 & Society, 27(2), 148.Bile (1998). In League. On Strangeland Soundtrack [CD]. TVT Records.Brown, E. F., & Hendee, W. R. (1989). Adolescents and Their Music: Insights Into the Health of Adolescents. JAMA, 22/29(2662), 1659-1663.Eminem (2000). Kim. On Marshall Mathers [CD]. Aftermath Records.Fried, C. B. (1996). Bad Rap for Rap: Bias in Reactions to Music Lyrics. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 2135-2146.Ice Cube (1994). No Vaseline. On Death Certificate [CD]. Priority Records.Joyer, D. L., & St. Lawerence, J. S. (1991). The Effects of Sexually Violent Rock Music on Male Acceptance of Violence Against Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 49-63.Litman, C. S. (1997). Effects of rap music on verbal and non-verbal aggressive and disruptive behaviour. Dissertation Abstracts International section B the Sciences & Engineering, 57(10-B), 6581.Manson, M. (1996). Irresponsible Hate Anthem. On Antichrist Superstar [CD]. CA: Uni/Interscope Records.Mendelson, R. A. (1989). Impact of Rock Lyrics and Music Videos on Children and Youth. Pediatrics, 83, 314-315.Prinsky, L. E., & Rosenbaum, J. L. (1987). Leer-ics or lyrics? Teenage impressions of rock’n roll. Youth & Society, 18, 384-397.Scheel & Westefeld. (1999). Heavy metal music and adolescent suicidality: an empirical Investigation. Adolescence, 34(134),253-273.#Slipknot (1999). Surfacing. On Slipknot [CD]. Uni/ Roadrunner.Sousou, S. D. (1997). Effects of Melody & Lyrics on Mood of Memory. Perceptual & Motorskills, 85, 31- 40.Tupac Shakur (1997). Hit’em Up. On Tupac’s Greatest Hits [CD]. Death Row Records.Wass, H., Miller, D. M., & Reditt, C. A. (1991). Adolescent and Destructive Themes in Rock Music: A Follow Up. OMEGA: Journal of Death and Dying, 23, 199-206.

Consent Application

I understand that my child has been asked to participate in a research project designed to test the performance of Sportco’s new Vector line of foosball tables. The number of subjects in this study is 120. The subjects are from three different school districts and represent both male and female genders. The subjects range in age from 13 to 18. The study is being conducted to see how children in this age group use our product. During the session the students will be playing games of foosball while listening to music. Students will also be given different types of written scales and assessments to complete before and after the study. These surveys will enable us to determine the students’ state of mind before and after using our tables. The entire study will be under video surveillance for study purposes and the records will be kept completely confidential. There will be minimal risk to the subjects that partake in the study. They will be listening to music with negative and/or explicit lyrics. There are no foreseeable long-term effects from participating in this study, but the youths will be listening to popular music that some find objectionable, but is played on area radio stations and MTV. There will be test administrators on hand to make sure any dispute will be settled immediately. There will be no charge for participation in the study. I understand that any information pertaining to me and/or my child obtained from this research will be kept strictly confidential. It has been explained to me that my identity will not be revealed in any description or publication of this research. Therefore, I consent to publication for scientific purposes. “An exception to confidentiality is information on child abuse or neglect that is obtained during this research. The information will be reported to the appropriate local or state agency in accordance with Pennsylvania law”. I understand that I have the right to refuse to participate in this study or withdrawal at any time. I also understand that I may be withdrawn from the study at any time.

Signature of Legal Guardian _____________________________Date _____________

Signature of School Principle_____________________________Date______________

Debriefing Thank you for taking part of this study. The nature of this study was not to test Sportco’s new Vector foosball table, but rather to examine whether the lyrics of heavy metal and rap music have an effect on aggression. The study was conducted to see if there is any change in behavior and or mood when listening to Heavy Metal or Rap Music that contains negative lyrics. During the session the students played playing games of foosball. Some listened to music with negative lyrics, some listened to music that contained no lyrics, and still others did not listen to music at all. Students were also given different types of written scales and assessments to complete, before and after the study. These allowed us to analysed their state of mind before and after the experiment. Through this study, and others like it, we hope to gain a better understanding of music and its effect on behavior. There are no foreseeable long-term effects for the children who took part in this experiment. The subjects were never in any physical danger, nor were they exposed to anything not mentioned in the consent form each of you signed before taking part.Thank you for your time and if you have any questions, feel free to contact us at our web site @ coral.wcupa.edu.

Appendix CAggressive Behavior Tally-sheet

As you observe the behavior of the subjects in this recording, please make a tally of aggressive behaviors under the proper heading.Verbal Aggression

• Profanity directed at a situation or other person

• Yelling

• Name calling

• Taunting

• Insulting

• Other (please describe) ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Non-verbal Aggression

• Rude gestures

• Pushing / shoving

• Hitting / punching

• Kicking

• Biting

• Other (please describe) ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lyrics“Surfacing”- SlipknotRunning out of ways to runI can`t see, I can`t beOver and over and under my skinAll this attention is DOING ME IN!


Picking through the parts exposedTaking shape, taking shagOver and over and under my skinAll this momentum is DOING ME IN!


You got all my love, livin` in your own hateDrippin` hole man, hard step, no fateShow you nuthin`, but I ain`t holdin` backEvery damn word I say is a sneak attackWhen I get my hands on youAin`t a fuck thing you can doGet this cuz you`re never gonna get meI am the very disease you pretend to be

I am the push that makes you move

“In League”-BilePretty boy with a gunBang bang fun funPretty girl with a knifeWatch her run it’s your wifeHeroin load my gunShoot shoot fun funPretty girl on extasyNow she wants to fuck meWe are deadWe are the leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongAnd we don’t believeWe are the congress of the new diseaseYeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeahThat’s rightYeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeahPretty thing with no headThat’s ok better off deadWarm blood everywhereShave off all my hairPretty girl what’s she worth?Stick it where it really hurtsGovernment experimentWelcome to my accidentWe are the deadWe are the leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongAnd we don’t believeWe are the congress of the new diseaseWe are the deadWe are in leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongWe have no fearWe are the anti of all you hold dearSocial diseaseDown on your kneesCovered in fleasGive me the freaksI am the clownI am disgracedIt’s always thrownUp in my faceYour ignoranceI always fightHow long untilWe are the deadWe are the leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongAnd we don’t believeWe are the congress of the new diseaseWe are the deadWe are the leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongAnd we don’t believeWe are the congress of the new diseaseWe are the deadWe are the leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongAnd we don’t believeWe are the congress of the new diseaseWe are the deadWe are the leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongAnd we don’t believeWe are the congress of the new diseaseWe are the deadWe are the leagueWe are the doctors of low self-esteemWe do it wrongAnd we don’t believeWe are the congress of the new disease

Submitted 1/4/2002 2:39:38 PM
Last Edited 1/4/2002 3:31:45 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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