Academic Studies

When news of the tragedies at Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech were released, the first thoughts were disbelief, sadness, anger and confusion. How could madness like this occur in a civilized nation? We try to add rational thought to an irrational situation. These incidences are horrific, but unfortunately, not isolated.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2013), homicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24. We try to identify the cause and precursors to these events in an attempt to prevent them from ever happening again. Mental health professionals desperately try to identify common traits of these disturbed individuals so we could identify those traits in others and intercede before they commit a crime. Unfortunately, there is no blood test. There is no personality trait that has been identified to cause homicidal ideation and/or behaviors. In spite of this, we continue to look for answers.

There is no clear and easy solution to ending violence against youth or violence committed by youth. There are, however, many well-recognized factors that influence violence in children. Some of those factors are: history of violence in the home, drug abuse, emotional disturbance, mental illness and exposure to violence and desensitization (Bachmeir, 2013; MiddleEarth, 2012; Miller, 2006; Resnick, 2004). While there are many factors that influence violence in children, the Town Hall Foundation focuses on one of those factors: exposure to violence and desensitization through mass media with special attention to music.

Long gone are the days of children passing notes in class, leaving a voice message for a friend on a land-line phone, and sitting around the television on Sunday evening watching the Wonderful World of Disney. Today's youth have their own cell phones to communicate with their friends and download and play music, music videos and movies.

A study completed through the Kaiser Family Foundation (Rideout, et al 2010) reveals that American youth between the ages of 8 and 18 consume media an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day. As far as media consumption is concerned, our youth are very good at multi-tasking. They can play video games or surf the net while listening to music. With this multi-tasking, American youth are exposed to almost 11 hours of media content per day.

Rideout et al reported that children listen to music an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes per day. Over the past few years the format of listening to music has changed from radio to portable players and mobile devices. This shift in format further reduces parental awareness of the music to what their children are listening. Loud music coming from the radio in our children's bedrooms has been replaced with mobile devices and headphones.

This trend in media consumption is disturbing to the THF Board of Trustees, the Executive Team and Employees of the Town Hall Foundation. However, more disturbing are the results of research studies conducted investigating the implications of this media blitz on the youth of our nation. Some of these research studies will be reviewed in the following paragraphs.

A clinical fellow at Harvard wrote an article on the importance and impact of music on youth (Reddick & Beresin, 2002). The authors stated that music plays a crucial role in a teenager's life. They stated that music "...forms the background of car rides and social gatherings and it also informs the adolescents about the adult world through the lens of the artists' lives, language and role modeling." Given the amount of time the youth of America listen to music and the importance music plays on the lives of our youth, it is important to investigate the impact of the media.

A study completed by Wingood and DiClemente (2003) assessed the exposure to rap music on health risk behaviors of adolescent African American females. Over 500 adolescents participated in this study. Exposure to rap music was assessed after six months and again after 12 months. The authors found that at the 12-month follow up, those subjects with greater exposure to rap music were three times more likely to have hit a teacher; more than two-and-a-half times more likely to have been arrested; twice as likely to have had multiple sexual partners and more than one-and-a-half times greater to have contracted a new sexual disease than those subjects with lower exposure to rap.

The negative impacts of music are not limited to just certain songs or certain types of music. In an article written by Anderson, et al (2003), the researchers investigated the impact of violent songs in over 500 students. They compared various psychological tasks measuring aggressive thoughts and feeling after the subjects listened to several violent songs and several nonviolent songs. The results showed that listening to violent songs led to higher levels of aggressive thoughts and feelings than listening to nonviolent songs. The lead author stated, "One major conclusion from this research and other research on violent entertainment media is that content matters." He went on to say that, "This message is important for all consumers, but especially for parents of children and adolescents."

Our children do not need to use their imaginations as to what the actions stated in the lyrics might look like as they are portrayed in high definition within the music videos. Several studies have reviewed the contents and themes within music videos (Rich, et al, 1998; Federman, 1998; DuRant, et al, 1997). Of the videos reviewed, 22.4% of them portrayed overt violence and carrying a weapon was depicted in 25% of the videos. In 80% of the violent videos, the person committing the act of violence was either the lead singer/rapper or an attractive character within the "storyline" of the video.

The Town Hall Foundation has used the content of these studies to form a set of review criteria. Our researchers review song lyrics and we publish the outcomes for all to see. Some of the information presented in this paper can be viewed at:

The full citations of the other articles included in this paper are:

Anderson CA, Carnagey NL, Eubanks J: Exposure to violent media: the effects of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2003; 84(5): 960-971

DuRant RH, Rich M, Emans SJ, et al: Violence and weapon carrying in music videos: a content analysis. Archives in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 1997; 151: 443-448.

Federman J: National Television Study, III. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 1998.

Reddick BH, Beresin EV: Rebellious rhapsody: metal, rap, community and individuation. Academic Psychiatry 2002; 26(1): 51-59.

Rich M, Woods ER, Goodman E, et al: Aggressors or victims: gender and race in music video violence. Pediatrics 1998; 101: 669-674.

Wingood GM, DiClemente RJ, Bernhardt JM, et al: A prospective study of exposure to rap music videos and African American female adolescents' health. American Journal of Public Health 2003; 93(3): 437-439.