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 ‚Äòparental advisory‚Äô sticker), public protest (e.g. by the Parents‚Äô 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt have caused the former. Similarly, merely describing a song as ‚Äòsuicide-inducing‚Äô or ‚Äòlife-affirming‚Äô 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.
Full disclosure: I’m an unpaid associate editor for The Psychologist and for those about to rock, I salute you.