Photograph by: Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

The idea that being exposed to violent imagery makes us more violent is one that most are familiar with. We hear it from the media, our families, our schools, and countless other sources. There is somewhat of a cliché in hearing that some type of music (be it rock and roll, hip-hop, etc.) is “the devil’s music”. What water can claims like these actually hold, though?

Eliana Tropeano, in the Journal of Undergraduate Psychological Research, writes that there is a correlation between violent musical imagery and violent behavior. However, this study was conducted with the use of violent music videos.

The studies that Tropeano discusses concluded that there was a significant effect. One study found that “participants who saw the violent rap videos reported higher probability of committing similar acts of violence and greater acceptance of the use of violence against women.”

Again, this study only focused on music that was accompanied by violent visuals. When focusing in solely on the auditory, there is much more up for debate. The book Media Violence and Children asserts that these sorts of claims are largely misinterpreted and over-applied.

“Given the rhetoric that controversies often breed, it is perhaps not surprising that many people assume that the idea of media effects is synonymous with the idea of ‘massive and uniform’ effects...  this may not be the most productive way to conceptualize media effects.”

The authors go on to explain that the effects of music with violent, suicidal, or misogynistic themes vary greatly depending on the audience. For example, children with current or past self-injurious or suicidal thoughts or behaviour are going to have different psychological responses to suicidal themes than a child without those experiences.

The sociological and psychological effects of harsh or violent music have been subject to debate for decades, and a concrete answer has yet to be fruitfully reached. Undoubtedly music does have a significant impact on our world and our minds, but the specifics are still questionable.