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The Role of Music in Adolescent Development

The increasing popularity of music among young people establishes its importance as an influential factor in their life. Many research studies point out to a linkage between music and behavior. This paper focusses on the role of violence provoking music and its relation to deviant behavior in adolescents and young adults. The present study investigates the effects of violent music on the aggression level of adolescents and young adults. A sample of 100 individuals i.e. 50 adolescents of 15-18 years of age and 50 young adults of 19-21 years of age were taken.

A self-constructed music preference questionnaire was used to assess the music preferences of the sample. Buss and Perry (1992) aggression questionnaire was used to assess the aggressive tendency. The results clearly establish that violence provoking music can lead to an increase in aggression levels in both adolescents and young adults. However, the effect of such music is similar for both age groups with no significant difference in aggression levels between adolescents and young adults who listen to violence provoking music.

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Keywords: Violent Music, Aggression, Adolescents and Young Adults


From the mother’s womb, every individual responds to music even before they have learned any language. The mother’s lullaby is the first form of communication that a child receives. Hence music plays a pertinent role in our lives from conception to adulthood. Whether as a part of the culture, religion, or emotional expression, music has always been the center of our society. Music is an eloquent vehicle for emotional expression like love, anger, ecstasy, etc.

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There are various elements of music such as rhythm which is the element of time, dynamics which is related to the relative loudness or quietness of music, melody is the linear or horizontal presentation of pitch whereas pitch is the highness or lowness of a musical sound. Different genres of music may use or omit some of these elements. The formation, presentation and even the explanation of music differ according to social and cultural context. Music can be divided into genres (e.g. rock music) and sub-genres (e.g. heavy metal). Genres could be characterized as the marker of music content. Music genres come in various types and styles such as alternative, blues, electronic, country, classical, etc. The dividing lines between music genres are precise and depend upon individual perceptions that may be controversial. There are various mediums through which music can be heard or played; it can be through live performances, audio devices, radio or television shows, and social media.

The kind of music adolescents listens to affect their behavior as they are most vulnerable to the effects of music due to their impressionable minds (Hendricks, Bradley, & Davis, 1999). On average, nine hours a day are spent by teenagers watching television and listening to music despite all-new options (Wallace, 2015). In recent decades, music is much more easily accessible than in past decades because of technological advances and lowered costs. Also as an accessible medium, music has a profound ability to influence attitudes and emotions (Juslin & Sloboda, 2010) (Wheeler, Sokhadze, Baruth, Behrens, & Quinn, 2011).

Listeners are attracted to music genres that have a positive impact on their mood (Saarikallio, 2011) (Thoma, Ryf, Mohiyeddini, Ehlert, & Nater, 2012) (Papinczak Z, Dingle, Stoyanov, Hides, & Zelenko). All genres of music have a powerful effect on their listeners. It is up to the music producers and creative team to determine how different genres influence the listeners. Few particular genres of music have been labeled as problematic and have been identified as harmful in the long run. (North & Hargreaves, 2006). A noteworthy discussion in the ongoing years has been the issue that music encourages problematic and violent behavior (Hoga & Bar-on, 1996).

According to critics, prominent negative themes in music such as substance abuse, suicide, murder, Satanism, and sexual violence adversely affect teenagers because they are repeatedly exposed to them. This is heavily reinforced because of how frequently they are portrayed in pop culture (Christenson & Roberts, 1998). Rap music and heavy metal music are under much criticism due to the nature of their lyrics, which are believed to glorify violence. While explicit topics such as sex, drugs, and violence were not a common theme in the music of the past, there has been a steep increase in the occurrence of such topics in music lyrics in the past two decades (Heavy Metal and Other Violent Music: How Dangerous is It?, 1999). Arnett (1991a) and Arnett (1991b) demonstrated that higher rates of reckless behavior such as “sexual promiscuity (unprotected casual sex), drug use (marijuana, cocaine), antisocial conduct with minor criminal activity (shoplifting, vandalism, damage to property), and dangerous “stunt” driving” was noted in those that preferred Heavy Metal Music styles. It was also reported by (Roe, 1995) there was also a negative effect on the school performance of adolescents that listened to Heavy Metal and Hard Rock music.

They are also more likely to associate with deviant peer groups and invest a large amount of time watching television of a violent nature. It was found that exactly the opposite was prevalent in adolescents “with a taste for more ‘acceptable’ types of popular music”. Behavioral changes in listeners of music that conveys violence in an accepting manner have been noticed due to its supposed influence. (Herd & Denise, 1979-1997). These behavioral changes sometimes occur subconsciously, without the listeners even being aware of the effects (North & Hargreaves, 2006). Particularly, ‘gangsta rap’ that involves lyrics associated with drug use, street gangs, sex, and violence has been theorized for glorifying violence. Meta-analysis supports that exposure to rap music ” tends to lead to a higher degree of acceptance of the use of violence” (Johnson, Adams, & Ashburn, 1995). Studies show that predisposition to violence may desensitize adolescence (Rehman & Reilly, 1985). Research has found sexual violence as one of the negative effects of music (Fischer & Greitemever, 2006), bullying (Zimmerman, Glew, Christakis, & Kton, 2005), and increase in thoughts that were aggressive (Anderson C., 1997), (Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks, 2003), feelings that were aggressive (Pieschl & Fegers, 2016) (Stanger, 2012) (Brummert-Lennings & Warburton, 2011) (Coyne & Padilla-Walker, 2015). Every individual can listen to any music but they have no power over the impact that music has on them (Aubrey, Hopper, & Mbure, 2011)

Baker and Bor (2008), established an association between antisocial behaviors, suicide vulnerability, drug usage, and different genres of music. Nonetheless, no causal relationship was found but it was suggested that the preference of music in young listeners is the reflection of their emotional vulnerability.

Bodner and Bensimon (2014), studied how music and personality traits impact emotions. The study was conducted on 548 university students with the age range of 18-43. The students were divided into two groups on the basis of their preference for ‘problem’ and ‘non-problem music’. Big five personality dimensions (neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and openness to experience) were used as a measure for both the groups which showed that there was no difference between the ‘problem’ and ‘non-problem’ group. According to the researchers, problematic music helps in regulating emotions in a sublimated manner rather than externalizing negative emotions and engaging directly in antisocial acts.

Shafron and Karno (2013), investigated 551 college students and divided them into two groups: those who listen to hard rock and heavy metal music and the other group who preferred other types of music. The results revealed that the students who listen to hard rock and heavy metal music showed more symptoms of anxiety and depression as compared to the other group but there was no significant difference on the variable of trait anger. Gowensmith and Bloom (1997), reported that after listening to heavy metal music, there was no increase in anger among fans.

In the present study, arousal was high for both fans and non-fans of heavy metal music, but it was noted that state-arousal was higher in fans than non-fans. Regardless of the arousal property of heavy metal music, no difference was found in self-reported anger of heavy metal fans when they listened to music which was non-preferred. Self-reported anger was found to be high in non-fans of heavy metal music. Results exhibit that state arousal is increased by heavy metal (Stack, Gunldach, & Reeves, 1994); (Gowensmith & Bloom, 1997). Sharma (2017), did a study on 200 students of Punjab, India. with the age range between 18 and 25. The author studied 50 Punjabi songs and according to him, youngsters in Punjab have a great susceptibility towards drug use and violence. This does not mean that youth are indulged into drugs but by assessing their behavior, the likelihood of being influenced by violence and drugs can be known.

Anderson et al. (2003), investigated the impact of violent media on youth. Two groups were randomly made, one group was assigned to watch a short violent music video and the other group was assigned to watch a short non-violent music video, and after that their interaction with other people was observed. Using a 10-point scale, physical and verbal aggression were assessed. The correlation was carried out to seek the relationship between watching violent videos and behaving violently and watching nonviolent videos and behaving non-violently. Result revealed that there was a positive correlation between watching a violent video and behaving violently. This research study clearly implied that there is a negative impact of violent media on youth in the short run.

Johnson (1995), studied the impact of rap music on academic performance and violent attitudes of 46 African American boys within an age range of 11-16 years. The sample was taken from the inner-city boys club of Wilmington, North Carolina. Randomly, participants were shown different videos, some were shown violent rap music videos, some were exposed to nonviolent rap music videos and some participants were not shown any videos at all. The results manifested that participants who were shown violent rap videos accept the use of violence and also showed great acceptance of violence used against women.

St. Lawrence et al. (1991), studied the impact of sexually violent music (rock music) on the acceptance of violence against women by males. The study involved exposure of Christian heavy metal rock music, sexually violent rock music, and classical music. According to the interpretation of results, males who did not have any religious background easily support violence against women. Additionally, results also showed greater sexual arousal after listening to classical music.

Johnson et al. (1995), studied the effect of rap music videos on the acceptance of violent teen dating. The researcher took the sample of African American adolescents and assigned them randomly into an experimental condition where some of them viewed sexual images with non-violent rap music videos and some viewed sexual images with no rap music video. After the experiment, women were asked about their views, the results indicated that the women who viewed sexual images with non-violent rap music video showed a higher acceptance of violent teen dating than the control group.

Johnson et al. (1995), reported that when participants were given conflicting hypothetical situations after they were exposed to violent rap music videos showed greater violent behavior for explaining the hypothetical situation.

Peterson and Pfost (1989), reported that when participants were exposed to non-sexual violent music videos, there was an increase in negative affect and inappropriate sexual beliefs. Two groups of college students were made, one group was shown antisocial themes with rock music videos, and the other group was shown antisocial themes without rock music videos. The group which has shown antisocial themes with rock music has shown a greater acceptance of anti-social behavior as compared to the control group who was shown antisocial themes without rock music videos (Hansen & Hansen, 1990). Another similar study showed that participants readily accepted stereotypical sexual behavior after watching such typical behavior (Hansen C., 1989) (Hansen & Hansen, 1988).

Anderson (2003), investigated the impact of music lyrics in five experiments. In this study, violent and non-violent songs by different artists were used to validate the results. The results clearly established through five experiments that violent lyrics lead to an increase in aggressive affect and thoughts.

The concern of parents, guardians, administrative authorities, and researchers towards this phenomenon is well justified. Adults are worried about the rise in deviant behavior due to the portrayal of violence in modern music. Artists’ views on the portrayal of violence in music is divided, some view it as a prop to guide problematic youth away from violence and others merely use it to sell their music (Herd & Denise, 1979-1997)..

Physiologically, there are distinct effects of music on biological processes. For example, it inhibits fatigue, changes the respiration rates, pulse, psychogalvanic response and blood pressure (Meyer, 1956). Music is not only limited to the physiological effects but it also influences mood and physical processes. For example, high pitch or rhythm, and melodic patterns lead to an increase in tension and anxiety and may also cause panic reactions in some instances (Lefevre, 2004).

Violence by young people is one of the most visible forms of deviant behavior in society. The period of adolescence and young adulthood is a time when violence and other deviant behaviors, are given heightened expression (Dahlberg & Potter, 2001). We are flooded with reports of violence on and off college and school campuses involving young people. An adolescent killed a seven-year-old in Ryan International School, Gurugram (Desk, 2017). A 19-year-old killed seventeen people in Parkland, Florida after he was expelled from school. (Audra, Burch, & Mazzei, 2018). In Yamunanagar, Haryana, a Class 12 student shot his school’s principal with his father’s revolver after he was punished for low attendance (HT Correspondent, 2018).

Numerous young people stay associated with forceful reprobate and rough practices, for example, physical battling, harassing, utilizing weapons, verbal dangers of damage to others, and interminable hasty animosity. Broadly there are two types of aggression, physical and nonphysical aggression. Physical aggression includes hurting others physically. For example, slapping. punching, stabbing, etc. Nonphysical aggression includes verbal aggression (verbal abusing, yelling, etc.) and relational aggression (destroying other person’s relations intentionally by gossiping, silent treatment etc.)(Crick & Grotpeter, 1995).

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The Role of Music in Adolescent Development. (2020, Oct 17). Retrieved from

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