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 thought on “Suicidal Tendencies or Kid Rock”

  1. 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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