Although there has been concern about the negative effects of music on human behavior throughout history, public interest in this issue rose sharply with the introduction of rock and roll music in the 1950s. Since those early days of rock and roll, many changes have taken place in the music. The lyrics have become more explicit in their references to sex, drugs, and violence (Fedler, Hall & Tunzi, 1982; Radecki, 1985). Along with this has come a surge of public concern about the effects of these lyrics. In addition to the extensive and sometimes sensational media coverage, these lyrics have drawn the attention of religious and parent groups, and the medical and political communities.
Two specific types of music have come under the most scrutiny. The first is a type of hard rock music known as heavy metal. There are probably several reasons for this--the appearance of the musicians, the loud and powerful style of the music, the theatrics of the live performances--but what receives the most attention is the basic themes of the lyrics. On September 19, 1985, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on the "Contents of Music and the Lyrics of Records." Most of the music discussed at this hearing was by heavy metal groups. The basic themes of many of the successful heavy metal songs are extreme rebellion, violence, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, perversion, and Satanism (Stuessy, 1985).
More recently, another type of music containing explicit lyrics has come to public attention--rap. Some of the lyrics are so sexually explicit, a U.S. district judge ruled one of the albums "obscene by community standards" in three counties in Florida (Honolulu Advertiser, 1990). The Parents' Music Resource Center, a nonprofit group organized to address the issue of lyrics that "glorified graphic sex and violence and glamorized the use of drugs and alcohol," distributed an information packet that included a list of recent releases with graphic, violent, and explicit lyrics. Almost all of the songs listed are by heavy metal or rap groups.
Despite the public concern about the effects of music on adolescents over the years, surprisingly little research has been done. King (1985), a child psychiatrist in Tennessee, found that 83% of his patients listened to heavy metal music, and 50% knew most of the words. He has compared this music to a "new religion" for some adolescents. King (1988) also did a study of adolescent psychiatric inpatients to determine if there was a relationship between chemical dependency and heavy metal music. He found that 59.1% of patients admitted primarily for chemical dependency chose heavy metal music as their first choice. He also found a high prevalence of violence, stealing, and sexual activity among these patients. Although King stops short of suggesting a cause and effect relationship between listening to this music and destructive behavior, he suggests that it is at least a contributing factor. However, he did not examine gender or any other possible contributing factors in the lives of these adolescents.
Another research group, headed by Wass (1988-89), administered a questionnaire to adolescents in the classroom setting. This study focused on the adolescents' preference for and views about music with themes specifically focused on homicide, suicide, and Satanism. This study was important because it began to examine the demographics of the adolescents. Of particular interest, three-fourths of the subjects who listened to this type of music were males.
A Swedish study by Roe (1987) of 11-15-year olds supports a reversal of the traditional cause and effect theories about academic achievement and music. The findings suggest that poor academic achievement results in rejection of the school culture and a heavier involvement with peers. This, in turn, leads to an increased preference for socially disapproved music. …