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Craig Anderson, Psychology, (515) 294-0283
David Gieseke, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, (515) 294-7742
Kevin Brown, News Service, (515) 294-8986


AMES, Iowa -- A study by Iowa State University researchers and the Texas Department of Human Services suggests that music with violent lyrics increases aggressive thoughts and feelings in listeners.

Craig Anderson, Iowa State professor and chair of the department of psychology, and Nicholas Carnagey, an ISU graduate student in psychology, published their study, "Exposure to Violent Media: The Effects of Songs With Violent Lyrics on Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings," in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"One major conclusion from this and other research on violent entertainment media is that content matters," Anderson said. "This message is important for all consumers, but especially for parents of children and adolescents."

Anderson said the study further challenges the popular belief that watching, reading or singing about anger will reduce aggressive impulses.

"Numerous studies have shown that aggressive words can prime aggressive thoughts, perceptions and behaviors," Anderson said. "The lack of concrete images in violent music may well allow listeners to imagine 'audio antagonists' similar to real-world antagonists."

The study used a series of five experiments with more than 500 college students to examine the effects of seven violent songs by seven artists and eight nonviolent songs by the same seven artists.

Students listened to the songs and were given various psychological tasks that measured aggressive thoughts and feelings.

"One task was to have the students classify words that can be both aggressive and nonaggressive in meaning, such as rock and stick," Anderson said. "Hearing a violent song led participants to interpret the meaning of ambiguous words in an aggressive way."

The study also showed that violent songs increased the speed with which participants read aggressive versus nonaggressive words, and increased the portion of word fragments (such as h_t) that were filled in to make aggressive words (such as hit).

"Violent songs increased feelings of hostility without provocation or threat," Anderson said. "This effect is not the result of differences in musical style, specific performing artist or arousal properties of the songs."

Anderson said one result is that violent song listening may cause an overly aggressive response to a social interaction than would have occurred without the music influence.

Anderson said more study is needed to determine the short- and long-term impacts of violent music lyrics on listeners, but that exposure to violent lyrics "might contribute to the development of an aggressive personality."


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