Cause Britney Spears just CAN'T be good for you!
August 28, 2009 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Looking for studies on the negative effect of music.

Is there any scientific studies on the negative effect of regularly listening to (some types, or all types of) music on people's psyches/lives/relationships etc.?

There must be a study somewhere to prove that prolonged listening to, for example, pop music can affect you negatively.

Google results include only studies on music's positive effects on depressed people, exam-takers, learners, etc.
posted by howiamdifferent to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Last month, Adam Shatz penned a fascinating article for the London Review of Books about how loud, aggressive and non-stop music has been used as an implement of torture. I'm not sure if that really helps answer your question, but it seems like it might be worth a look.

And of course, there have been philosophers since Plato and Mozi who have argued that music, with its ability to stir the passions, should be either forbidden or strictly regulated (see Mozi's fascinating essay "Against Music").
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, there's lots of research on this. I don't know about the genre thing, but there is a good deal of neuroscience regarding sounds waves, their organization and the effect on the brain.

A good place to start with, I think, is this episode of radiolab which discusses, among other interesting things, the premiere of La Sacre du Printemps (rite of spring). I don't know if you know the story but - its a ballet (a fucking awesome one, well, minus the choreography). It uses the orchestra in a way very radical at the time. For example, in the second part, you've got not only extremely abrasive rhythm use (for an orchestra, at the time) and you've got essentially an Emajor7 in the upper strings and an Ebmajor7 in the lower strings (or something close to that, I haven't looked at the score in awhile). As you can imagine...this sounds a bit...unsettling for a lot of people. And the audience freaked out! Angry mob style. Throwing things and wanting the head of Stravinsky on a plate.

From my own experience, listening to lots and lots of 20th century concert music has fucked with my ears and my head. I no longer really know when something sounds 'bad' - if you know what I mean.

Music changes the way we act and feel - on a very cognitive level. The whole 'marilyn manson caused columbine' thing is of course ridiculous and reductionist, but the idea behind that notion is not completely invalid.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:46 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


oh yes seconding HP. Mozi is a fascinating read. Confucious felt similar. There was appropriate music for appropriate times, etc.

Synaesthesia is something you might also want to look at. Lots of composers have claimed to have this ability, not the least of whom was Bach. And Michael Torke, for a more modern example. Please see colors for certain keys, etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:48 PM on August 28, 2009


There must be a study somewhere to prove that prolonged listening to, for example, pop music can affect you negatively.

There are dozens of studies like this, but I don't think any will meet the criteria of "scientific." It's hard to find a study to prove a concept that is totally bogus.

I suppose somewhere there is someone who ruined his marriage/career/whatever by listening to britney spears on repeat, but that wouldn't really be about the music as much as the compulsion.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:00 PM on August 28, 2009


Someone did a study a few years ago and found that high suicide rates correlated with cities having more country music stations. I don't have a link for you, nor do I have any idea what, if anything, they did to control for other variables or how much of a correlation there was.

To be honest, I think most of what you are going to find is research with an agenda - save the children from rock and roll, etc. - and likely to be pretty bad science.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:02 PM on August 28, 2009


It's hard to find a study to prove a concept that is totally bogus.

Link (to a study that says it's a total bogus) or it didn't happen.
posted by howiamdifferent at 4:04 PM on August 28, 2009


How music effects behavior, either positively or negatively, would seem to remain a highly subjective and contentious area for scientific research. After all, one might be able to prove how exposure to certain kinds of music alters, ever so slightly, one's blood pressure or heartbeat, but that's still a long way from saying a long-term effect in bahvior manifests itself.

However, there is some evidence to suggest that musical training (not just listening per se) affects brain development in young children, although, again, this is regarded as largely positive.

See also this book.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 4:14 PM on August 28, 2009


This is a singularly bad way to go about learning about a concept. You should read the literature broadly and deeply about the topic, rather than searching for a study that "proves" your pre-determined conclusion. Further, you're unlike to find many studies on many topics that provide conclusive proof. If you just want confirmation of your view, I'm sure you can find it.
posted by proj at 4:29 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


You should read the literature broadly and deeply about the topic, rather than searching for a study that "proves" your pre-determined conclusion.

Yes, that's quite true indeed. And like you said, there is a lot of research on the many benefits of music. Have you checked out Oliver Sack's 'This is your brain on music?' or other similar books? A lot of the early research on this was done at Columbia, so you might want to dig through some of the music dept. archives.

The bottom line, as with so many things, there are many interesting studies on this, and very few conclusions. It still remains largely a mystery (which I think is wonderful and is really just testament to the magic of music and what it can do).
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:32 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is entirely anecdotal, but I'm a classically trained musician and for 3 years while I was working in a Japanese middle school, I had to listen to J-pop tunes for about 2 hours each day while the students ate lunch, had recess, and then cleaned the school.

Since I was a child, I've always had music floating around in my head, music that my brain makes up and I just sit and listen to it. About 1 year into the job at the middle school, I started hearing only J-pop-like melodies in my head, and the 2nd year into the job, I stopped hearing music entirely. Composing also became more difficult. It's been about 2 months since I quit that job and the music in my head that I used to hear before working there has slowly started coming back.

If a study that proves pop music is bad for you exists, I hope you find it.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 8:57 PM on August 28, 2009


“On the Fetish-character in music and the Regression of Listening” by Theodor Adorno is Frankfurt School philosophy, not psychology. But I think it's worth mentioning here as a powerful iteration of the idea that "commercial popular music is deadening to the listener." Subsequent studies of popular music that are less than celebratory often cite Adorno.

This doesn't answer your question exactly, but it provides another example, proving that anxiety regarding a potentially sinister side to listening to music has been around for a long time.
posted by umbú at 9:05 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Once you are talking about specific genres, I think you are on really thin ice, potentially seeking scientific justification for culturally-produced preferences in musical taste.

It reminds me of this 1975 record "Music for your plants", an experiment where classical music and rock music were played for plants--you can guess how that ended up.
posted by umbú at 9:17 PM on August 28, 2009


There are dozens of studies like this, but I don't think any will meet the criteria of "scientific." It's hard to find a study to prove a concept that is totally bogus.

THAT is not science. That is bias. Bias does not equal science. Its actually anti-science.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:19 AM on August 29, 2009


As you can imagine...this sounds a bit...unsettling for a lot of people. And the audience freaked out! Angry mob style. Throwing things and wanting the head of Stravinsky on a plate.

I'd actually attribute that reaction more to the audience being very unused to something so unusual than attributing it to the music itself. That was a pretty lively time for the arts of all kinds -- an unusually high concentration of experimental and avante-garde artists trying to do their thing in more proper drawing-room or genteel concert-hall settings, and the genteel concert-hall audiences getting pissed off. Audiences were just prone to getting pissed off if they disliked things anyway.

That kind of reaction happened a couple times in the theater as well -- the audience at the Abbey Theater in Dublin had a near-riot at the opening night of the play The Plough And The Stars, partly because they were scandalized that one of the characters was a prostitute and partly because the play had pacifist sentiments. There were also riots at performances of PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD because it dealt with patricide. In France, there was an uproar at the very first word in the play Ubu Roi -- the very very beginning of the play involves the main character screaming "SHIIIIIIIT!" as loud as he can. The audience was shocked and caused an uproar. They stopped the show, settled everyone down, begged the audience to let them go on with the play, and the audience settled back in -- and picked the play up from where they started. Unfortunately, the very next line ALSO was someone saying "shit," and the audience got bent out of shape again and they had to cancel the performance.

In other words: I don't think that the riots at RITE OF SPRING were due to "the music, it BURRRRRRNS!" so much as it was genteel audiences saying "my stars, we've never heard anything like this, how DARE they show this tripe! I've got season tickets!!!!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd actually attribute that reaction more to the audience being very unused to something so unusual than attributing it to the music itself.

Well, yes, this is true and not true. Our system of tonality is based quite deeply in the harmonic structure of music. I won't get into this very much here, but, for example, the notion of that great major chord sound is rooted in overtones, that is, the continuum of notes you hear above any given note (you do realize that any so-called tone you hear is actually just the most prominent tone of an infinite series of tones...). And like anything of this nature, the way the brain processes it plays a significant role in how our emotions react to it.

And like anything, this reaction evolves over time. Don't forget that a century ago, music (and art in general) was viewed extremely differently than it is today. The idea of genius and correctness was much more limited, much more confined by what we might today call "skill" of even "talent."

In other words: I don't think that the riots at RITE OF SPRING were due to "the music, it BURRRRRRNS!" so much as it was genteel audiences saying "my stars, we've never heard anything like this, how DARE they show this tripe! I've got season tickets!!!!"

I mean, this isn't exactly un-true, but it's also not at all correct. The brain and its understanding of tonality evolves with music itself - it's a chicken and/or egg issue. To say this event (or the myriad of similar events) is simply because it's 'new' music, or whatever, is highly reductionist, and not to be a jerk, but really ignorant. Music and our perception of it is extremely complex. It involves our own cognition, the physical and mathematical structure of sound, history, invention, and evolution.

EmpressCallipygos -

You realize this was not an unique event. This is simply how musical/brain evolution works. The same reaction given to Stravinsky was also given to Beethoven, Debussy, Pendoreski, Crumb, Zeppelin...

By saying its mostly about custom v. the inherent, you're really missing the interesting component of music, its effects on us, and this whole discussion. You're looking at this interesting topic from an extremely hermeneutically limited and shallow viewpoint.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:46 AM on August 30, 2009


And, no offense, the cognitive reception of music is a completely different discussion than that of theatre. I love both, but seriously, these are quite disparate experiences, as far as our perception is concerned.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:55 AM on August 30, 2009


And, no offense, the cognitive reception of music is a completely different discussion than that of theatre. I love both, but seriously, these are quite disparate experiences, as far as our perception is concerned.

No, I agree. That was actually my point, in fact -- that the reaction to RITE OF SPRING may have been more about a cultural zeitgeist than it being anything to do with the cognitive reception of that particular bit of music. My examples of theater instances were more an illustration of the cultural zeitgeist than they were of any cognitive reception comparisons.

In other words: the cognitive reaction to RITE OF SPRING is one thing, but the audience rioting as a response TO that cognitive reaction may have been fueled by something else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2009


Lutoslawski, you mean Oliver Sack's Musicophilia, and Daniel Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music. Two different books.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 11:57 AM on August 31, 2009


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