Suicidal Tendencies or Kid Rock

The latest edition of The Psychologist is a special issue on the psychology of music and it has a great article on how music has a social influence.

One particularly interesting paragraph deals with link between rock music, suicide and self-harm.

There is indeed some evidence that preference for certain types of music is linked to thoughts of self-harm, but the second paragraph is the kicker: there are various reasons why this association is unlikely a reflection of rock causing these thoughts – an in fact, the act of labelling certain music as ‘causing suicide’ may itself strengthen the association.

The rise of heavy rock with supposedly pro-suicide lyrics in the 1970s and 1980s led to legislation (e.g. attempts to ban sales of CDs featuring a ‘parental advisory’ sticker), public protest (e.g. by the Parents’ Music Resource Center), and many apparently bizarre local actions (e.g. the suspension of a Michigan high school pupil for wearing a T-shirt promoting Korn that featured no lyrics or words apart from the band’s name). The assumption on which these were based, namely that the music causes self-injurious thoughts and actions, is not so far-fetched as might seem, as several studies suggest at least a correlation between music and suicide. For example, Stack et al. (1994) found a link between suicide rates among teenage Americans and variations in subscriptions to a heavy rock magazine; and we (North and Hargreaves, 2006) have found that fans of rock and rap were more likely than others to consider suicide and to self-harm.

Other research, though, is less suggestive of a link. We have also found (North & Hargreaves, 2006) that thoughts of suicide and self-harm precede an interest in rock, so that the latter can’t have caused the former. Similarly, merely describing a song as ‘suicide-inducing’ or ‘life-affirming’ leads listeners to perceive it as such (North & Hargreaves, 2005); by labelling music as suicide-inducing, campaigners and legislators may be helping to create the problem they aim to eradicate. Other research (North & Hargreaves, 2006; Scheel & Westefeld, 1999; Schwartz & Fouts, 2003; Stack et al., 1994) shows that the correlation between suicidal tendencies and an interest in rock is mediated by family background and self-esteem, which raises the issue of which of the latter is the better predictor of the former.

The issue also contains a freely available article on mental turmoil in Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina if you’re after something a little more literary.

Link to The Psychologist article ‘The Power of Music’.
Link to The Psychologist article on the novel Anna Karenina.

Full disclosure: I’m an unpaid associate editor for The Psychologist and for those about to rock, I salute you.

One Comment

  1. fanatixx
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of this old censor debate where Frank Zappa talks about words, and why they should or shouldnt be abolished.


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