READING 13 Exposure to Violent Media: The Effects of Songs with Violent Lyrics on Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings by Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks (2003) Please refer to the printed reader, Readings in Social Psychology 3/e, for the text of this article. Overview Five experiments examined effects of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and hostile feelings. Experiments 1, 3, 4 and 5 demonstrated that college students who heard a violent song felt more hostile than those who heard a similar but nonviolent song. Experiments 2–5 demonstrated a similar increase in aggressive thoughts. These effects replicated across songs and song types (e.g., rock, humorous, non-humorous). Experiments 3–5 also demonstrated that trait hostility was positively related to state hostility but did not moderate the song lyric effects. Discussion centers on the potential role of lyric content on aggression in short-term settings, relation to catharsis and other media violence domains, development of aggressive personality, differences between long-term and short-term effects, and possible mitigating factors. Critical Thinking Questions 1. According to Anderson et al., what are some of the important distinctions in considering the influence of different types of violent media, such as popular music, music videos, video games, and television? 2. The authors review correlational studies of music preference and aggressive behavior. For example, college students who prefer heavy metal and rap music report more hostility than students who prefer other genres. Recall the discussion of correlational research designs in Chapter 2—why would it be inappropriate to conclude that these studies demonstrate that violent music causes aggressive behavior? What are some alternative explanations for these correlational findings? 3. What similarities does the present research have to studies conducted by Chartrand and Bargh (1999; Reading 6) and Garcia et al. (2002; Reading 12)? Based on these three studies, what general conclusions can be drawn about the links between perception and behavior? 4. What implications do the present studies have for the idea of catharsis (Chapter 11)? Do these findings suggest that catharsis works as originally theorized? Why or why not? 5. What are the main findings of Studies 4 and 5 regarding the role played by humor in the relationship between song lyrics and listener aggression? 6. To what extent do you believe that these findings would generalize to other types of music lyrics? Would sexist or misogynist lyrics influence listeners’ attitudes towards women? Would racist lyrics affect racial attitudes? Does Chapter 11’s discussion of the influence of pornography provide any guidance for answering these questions? Answers to Critical Thinking Questions 1. Anderson et al. suggest that one of the critical aspects of violence in music is that it lacks a visual component. Television, movies, and video games all present visual information to consumers. Such visual portrayals of violence are often unambiguous. With regard to music, on the other hand, aggressive content is often only accessible to audience members who pay close attention to the song lyrics. Not only are lyrics often difficult to understand, but listeners also tend to divide their attention between lyrics and music. All of these differences suggest that violent song lyrics may be less influential than other types of media violence. At the same time, some would argue that violent lyrics can be even more influential than other types of media. For one, consumers often listen to a song repeatedly, facilitating their comprehension and increasing exposure. In addition, the lack of visual information in music allows listeners to imagine details and potentially transfer ideas from lyrics to situations and individuals in their own lives. 2. The major limitation of correlational research designs is that they do not allow for conclusions regarding the causal relationship between variables. For any correlation, there are at least three possible causal explanations for the relationship. Take, for example, the positive correlation between listening to heavy metal music and hostility. It is possible that listening to this type of music leads one to become more aggressive. However, it is just as methodologically plausible that being a hostile individual leads to greater desire to listen to heavy metal music. Furthermore, a third variable could cause both hostility and a tendency to listen to heavy metal. Perhaps the absence of a nurturing role model or parent causes hostility and also causes people to turn to more aggressive forms of music. Only through experimentation can a researcher draw causal conclusions about relationships such as this one. 3. The major similarity between the present research and the results of Chartrand and Bargh and Garcia et al. is that all three articles demonstrate that people are often influenced by information and stimuli outside of conscious awareness. In Chartrand and Bargh, participants tended to mimic the nonverbal behavior of their interaction partner, even though they were unable to report what that nonverbal behavior was. In Garcia et al., priming participants with group-related thoughts rendered them less likely to engage in helping behavior. In the present studies, exposure to violent music increased participants’ aggressive interpretations of ambiguous words, the speed with which they read aggressive words, and their likelihood of providing aggressive word completions. This relationship between perception and behavior did not depend on participants’ conscious awareness of the influence of the music. Taken together, these three articles demonstrate the automaticity of the perception-behavior link. 4. In its original form, the frustration-aggression hypothesis suggested that catharsis was a safe way to “blow off steam” or reduce the motive to aggress. Examples of catharsis were theorized to include imagining aggression, observing aggression, or channeling one’s motivations into a safe form of aggression, such as boxing. Research on catharsis has not always supported the basic premise behind it, however. In fact, a good deal of research suggests that imagining or observing aggression only serves to reinforce future aggressive tendencies. The present findings are consistent with this lack of support for the original idea of catharsis. Listening to violent music does not seem to be a safe outlet for aggressive energy. To the contrary, the results of Anderson et al. indicate that listening to violent music tends to increase aggressive tendencies. 5. Unlike violent songs, which seem to lead to aggressive cognitions, humorous songs have a more positive effect on listeners. One might then predict that a humorous violent song would be less likely to lead to aggressive outcomes than a non-humorous violent song. By examining both violent and humorous songs in Studies 4 and 5, Anderson and colleagues were able to determine the relative influence of these two characteristics. Their results indicated that violence and humor seemed to cancel each other out when it came to state hostility. Specifically, participants who heard a humorous violent song became no more hostile than participants who heard a song that was neither humorous nor violent. Regarding aggressive cognitions, however, the violent content of songs was more influential than their humorous content. Regardless of whether they were humorous or not, violent songs led to an increase in aggressive cognitions for participants. 6. These are empirical questions, but the framework of the present studies does suggest that the influence of music lyrics on listeners need not be confined to the domain of aggression. Repeated exposure to songs with sexist lyrics may very well activate sexist cognitions and lead listeners to engage in more biased behavior. Chapter 11 reviews research that indicates a link between pornography and increases in negative arousal and, subsequently, aggression towards a confederate. These studies suggest that sexually explicit song lyrics may also lead listeners to an increase in aggressive cognitions and even aggressive behavior. In sum, the present studies demonstrate the potential influence of music on listeners, an influence which need not be restricted to lyrics involving violence and aggression. Links For Further Investigation As detailed in Chapter 11, the relationship between violent media and aggressive behavior is a controversial issue among parents, politicians, and researchers. For a site summarizing the debate regarding media and violence—including discussion of empirical research, government responses to violent media, educational interventions, and business ramifications—go to http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/violence/index.cfm. Discourse on violence and the media is often marked by specific real-world events. For example, many point to “copy cat crimes,” in which criminals imitate the violence they see on television or in the movies, as proof of a direct link between media violence and violent behavior. For a list and analysis of several such recent crimes, see http://www.mediascope.org/pubs/ibriefs/cc.htm. Regarding the specific topic of the present reading, the influence of song lyrics on behavior, the trial of heavy metal group Judas Priest is certainly a landmark event. In this case, the band was sued because a young man killed himself while listening to one of its songs, allegedly as a result of a subliminal pro-suicide message. You can read about this case at http://www.csicop.org/si/9611/judas_priest.html, which includes an analysis of the role of expert scientific testimony during the trial.