Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
by Disa Forde-Cook, MSc
Recently the island has been debating the impact of our local musicians’ lyrical content after a video featuring seemingly violent lyrics went viral. This is not the first time Barbados has had such a wide scale furore on a similar theme and in fact we are not the only country to ponder on these thoughts.
Over the years, studies have been conducted in the hopes of answering society’s questions as to whether this type of music influences its members to participate in violence.
In 2003, the American Psychological Association published articles on two studies which investigated what effects musical lyrics had on aggression and violent behaviour.
In both studies, it was concluded that the participants reported increased feelings of hostility and aggressive thought when exposed to violent lyrics. Even as the musical style changed and was presented in a humorous way, this remained true.
These findings contradicted schools of thought that listening to aggressive lyrics could be used as a release (catharsis or venting) for a person’s aggressive thoughts and feelings.
Instead showing that the music actually stimulated the participants to be more aggressive than those who were in the control groups. Though these studies focused on violent lyrics, it was also noted that previous research showed other types of violence-themed media, such as television and videogames, have an impact on behaviour.
These studies support the theory that repeated exposure to violent media (in general not only songs’ lyrics) could lead to the development of aggressive personality.
On the other hand, musician and researcher John Sloboda has also noted that listening to music is a very personal experience, particularly for Western society, and persons tend to choose music which reflects their current emotions or to reinforce their social identities.
This would suggest that the persons most likely to choose to listen to this type of music are persons who identify with a violent or aggressive nature (whether they are aware or not) or are experiencing feelings or thoughts of hostility and/or aggression.
This information suggests that violent music and violent behaviour can develop into a cyclical, co-dependent type relationship. An aggressive personality tends toward entertainment of an aggressive nature and aggressive entertainment encourages an aggressive personality.
So where does one begin to address a situation like this if the dream of a peaceful society is to be realised? I would suggest it begins in childhood.
Studies show that children begin to absorb media from the womb and in infancy prefer to listen to music that their parents would have listened to during pregnancy. Children also learn melodies from early and can recall music even before they can understand lyrics.
Although there is no empirical evidence to refer to at this stage, perhaps our youth are introduced to violent media at an early stage helping to shape aggressive behaviours early on and continuing through to adulthood.
Solutions to the problem of violence in society therefore need a multifaceted approach. Firstly, research should be conducted into the various factors that significantly impact the lives of our Barbadian youth, then recommendations should be made based on the findings of these studies aiming at both short-term and long-term solutions to our ever-growing concerns.
What is for sure is that now is the time to start, we can no longer throw our hands in the air and hope for the best, and we certainly cannot seek to cast blame only. We are all now responsible for the future of our island and we can make an impact on the direction it goes by choosing our path at this juncture.
Disa Forde-Cook, has a MSc Applied Music Psychology from the Roehampton University.