The Relationship Between Musical Preference and Sex Role Perception
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
COBB, J. C. (2000). The Relationship Between Musical Preference and Sex Role Perception. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Relationship Between Musical Preference and Sex Role Perception

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
This study measured the relationship between music listening tendencies and sex-role perception. Thirty-four participants, 28 women and 6 men, were researched. All of the participants were between the ages of 18-20. The independent variable was music listening tendencies. The criterion variable, sex-role perception, was measured by the Bem Sex Role Inventory and the Sexual Attitudes Survey to find out how it was affected by the independent variable. It was hypothesized that people who listened to rap and heavy metal would show more violent and adversarial sexual beliefs. Also hypothesized was that country music listeners would hold a more traditional role for the sexes. The study showed a positive correlation between rap and heavy metal music listening and violent and adversarial sexual beliefs but failed to produce significant results on the relationship between country listeners and sex-role perception.

Music is a part of out everyday lives. Whether it is in the form of Gregorian chant, a compact disc, a music video or an online search engine, music has and always will be around. As far back as the ancient Greeks, people have studied how music affects human behavior (Portney, 1954). How much do peoples’ musical preferences correlate with their personality? It is clear that there is a correlation between ones’ musical preferences and certain personality traits. A number of scholars have expressed concern regarding the effects of songs on listener attitude (Wester, 1997). These differences are, as trends have shown, dependent upon the type of music as well as the lyrics. In a previous study it was found that, by exposing men to rap music with sexually explicit lyrics, adversarial sexual beliefs towards women increased in the men after listening to the music (Wester, 1997). This study also suggested that both the music and the lyrics were causes of these belief changes. Stereo typically, rap is a musical genre associated with crime, thugs and, simply put, negative emotions. Many rap songs, especially those to be considered gangster rap, contain lyrics that are condescending towards women. We are a product of our environment and music is a part of our environment. How easily one is influenced by, in this case, rap music obviously differs from person to person. It is then logical to conclude that the type music a person listens to can influence their belief system. A good example of this is a study done with high school senior participants in a predominantly African-American community (Johnson, 1995). Twenty-five percent of the females involved reported they had been the victims of violent or sexual beliefs. It was also found that rap the overwhelming musical choice for the offenders. Furthermore, the violence was viewed by many of the females as being acceptable. Although this study does not imply a direct link between rap and violence it shows that there could be a correlation. Rap music is not the only type of music that can affect sex roles and acceptability of violence against women. Heavy metal and hard rock listeners have also been found to accept this violence and also have been found to believe in male dominance. An interesting example of this is Woodstock 99’. This concert was supposed to pay tribute to the good vibes of peace at the original concert in 1969. It seems that both time and music have changed though, as there was more violence in the first night of Woodstock 99’ then there was the entire festival of 69’. In listening to the lyrical, musical, and moral ideals between the bands in the two festivals, more evidence is given that music can facilitate a wide range of emotions. In a related study it was hypothesized that exposure to heavy metal rock music increased the males’ sex role stereotyping and negative attitudes toward women. The results showed measurable changes in attitudes of participants that were given only a small, controlled dosage of heavy metal rock music (Lawrence, 1991). This study, as well as aforementioned, should make one wonder how much of an effect listening to the music that breeds sex role stereotypes would have over a long period of time. It would seem logical that, by the theory of group polarization, these negative attitudes suggested in the music are adopted and strengthened over time by the listeners. Of course violence and aggression are not the only connections that have been studied in respect to music and sex roles. Country music, as prior studies have shown, can be correlated with traditional or old-fashioned sex roles (Martin, 1993). It was shown that people who primarily listen to country music hold more traditional roles for the sexes than people that listen to other types of music. This was especially found in males. Those males who listen to country music had the dominant personality that the stereotypical man in our society is perceived as having. The study suggests that listeners of country music are at a higher risk for suicide. In this controlled study it was shown that listening to country music tends to lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and thoughts of cynicism. It is possible that due to the blunt, pessimistic views expressed about relationships in the music.Many of the studies done in this area are experimental in nature. A person listens to music in a controlled setting, and an instrument is used to measure the short-term effects of this music on the person. Other studies have shown how one particular genre relates to a specific culture.While all of the studies have been scientifically progressive, by having participants from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, as we hope to in our study, we will get a more reliable sample. Also, this study will use a Likert scale to determine how often people listen to different types of music. This study will be reliable where others have faulted because it measures at least one of the variables, how often the genre is listened to, in an uncontrolled way. The results of the preference survey will then be compared with the scores on the two instruments that measure perception of sex roles. In doing this we will be able to get a clearer picture of how the two variables are related.It is our hypothesis, based on past research that participants that listen to rap/hip hop and heavy metal will demonstrate more violent and adversarial sexual beliefs than participants that listen to other types of music. We further hypothesize that participants that listen to country music will hold a more traditional view of the roles for the sexes than participants that listen to other types of music.

Participants: Thirty four participants were tested. 6 males and 28 females made up the sample. All were between the ages of 18-20. All of the participants were freshman psychology majors at Loyola University New Orleans. They were selected by convenience sampling. They participated as part of a psychology freshman learning community course. Some of the participants received course credit for their involvement.

Materials: The resources used were writing utensils, the Bem Sex Role Inventory (Bem, 1978), a self-made questionnaire measuring music listening tendencies and a selected sample from the Sexual Attitudes Scale (Burt, 1988). Also used were informed consent forms. The Bem Sex Role Inventory is designed to measure personality sexual identity by having the participant rate how they perceive themselves, using a 7-point Likert scale, on sixty adjectives. The Sexual Attitudes scale measures perceptions of sex roles in relationships. The scale is measured by use of a 5-point Likert scale that asks the participant how much he or she agrees with twenty four statements. Questions included things like “A man is never justified in hitting his wife” and “It is acceptable for a woman to pay for the date.” The self-made questionnaire was developed to measure how often the participants listen to five musical genres. A 5-opint Likert scale was developed for this portion that ranged from never to always.

Design & Procedure: This study was done in a correlational design. Variable one was the amount each participant listened to music from the following five musical genres: Heavy metal/hard rock, country, rock, other forms of rock, rap/hip hop and pop/top 40. The participants were asked to respond on the scale by indicating the frequency they listen to music from each individual genre. The criterion variables were the two scales: The Bem Sex Role Inventory and selected items from the Sexual Attitudes Survey. The participants walked into their classroom during their normally scheduled class time and sat down. They were each given two copies of the informed consent form. They were asked to sign their name and print their name and the date clearly. We then explained that if they put their address or e-mail address we would send them the results of the study. One of the copies was then collected and the participants were allowed to keep the other copy. We then administered the three aforementioned instruments, stapled together, as one survey. The participants were given 15 minutes to fill out the survey. As a method of control, all participants were given the test in the same room, given the same instructions, and the procedure followed the same steps for each group of participants tested. After handing in the completed surveys, the participants were debriefed. We explained to them that the purpose of our study was to find the relationship between sex role perception and musical preferences. We asked them if they had any questions. Nobody had any questions and the participants were released from the testing site at the end of the class period.

A positive correlation was found between rap/hip hop listeners and violence (r (32) = .3980, p < .05). Also the study shows a significant correlation between rap/hip hop listeners and stereotypical sex role views (r (32) = .2979, p < .05). A positive correlation was found between heavy metal listeners and violence (r (32) = .428, p < .05). The study showed no significant correlation between country music listeners and stereotypical sex roles. A Spearman Rank-order correlational coefficient was used to analyze the data since our independent variable and our criterion variable were ordinal. The mean for listening to other forms of rock was the highest (M = 2.62, SD = 1.13) followed by pop/top 40 (M = 2.26, SD = 1.14), rap/hip hop (M = 2.47, SD = 1.16), heavy metal/hard rock (M = .94, SD = 1.14) and country (.M = .93, SD = 1.13).

A significant portion of the results shows a positive relationship between heavy metal and rap/hip hop listening and violence. Also, a significant positive relationship was found between listening to rap/hip hop and holding stereotypical sexual beliefs. No support was found for listening to country music and holding stereotypical roles for the sexes. These results can be compared with results of previous studies. In a study done by Johnson in 1995, it was found that females in an inner city reported alarmingly high rates of sexual violence and abuse. It was also reported that the abusers primarily listened to rap music. Clearly though, these results are due to the sample. One could predict with conventional wisdom that, as a trend, people in inner cities are both violent and listen to rap music. Finding a correlation that is valid is difficult though because many obvious confounds exist in this scenario. However, this study used college students as the participants. By and large, one would expect college students to be less violent than inner city kids. Thus, our results may have a practical implication above similar studies. In a related study, heavy metal listening was linked with both violence and stereotypical sex role perception (Lawrence, 1991). In this study, as mentioned earlier, the participants were exposed to heavy metal and their perceptions were then measured. Our results confirm these results. A contribution that our study adds is that our heavy metal results come from researching participants who listen to the music on a regular basis. Furthermore, although our study is not experimental like the aforementioned, it is a contribution since it measured the music that the participants actually listen to. There were many limitations in our study. Since the study is done in a non-experimental design, it is purely correlational. There is no way to ascertain if rap/hip hop and heavy metal cause violence or if being violent causes people to listen to the music. Also, our sample was not representative of the entire population of music listeners. We had twenty-eight women and just six men in our study so the results are heavily weighted towards the views of women. Another serious confound is that all of our participants were freshman psychology majors. This represents just one sector of the population. This sector is probably above average in intelligence. By using psychology majors, a particularly analytical sector of the population, it seems likely that the participants would not fall for the influence our study was predicting. Also, since country music was the genre least listened to by the participants, our results in this area are limited. What is the strength of music as a socializing agent? By producing significant results that violence is linked to heavy metal and rap listening, this study suggests that it may be strong. If this is true then what implications should it have? This is a difficult question to answer. If there is a reason to believe that listening to certain types of music can create negative attitudes, then the argument for censorship of explicit lyrics is heightened. With results such as ours, combined with previous studies, increased emphasis should be placed on encouraging artists to realize the impact they have on individuals and society as a whole. Of course this is easier said then done. Trying to tell Marilyn Manson to stop making negative music is neither practical nor sensible. The First Amendment will not be amended and will always be there for the artists to fall back on. If someone replicates this study they should get a more representative sample of the population. This could be accomplished by not limiting the study to a small sector of the population, as we did in our study. Also, the categories that we used may be too broad and ambiguous. Thus, a more valid way to measure music listening might be to include a few example of what each genre includes. Also, by splitting rap into two separate categories, gangster rap and mainstream rap, it would help show the effects that the sexually violent lyrics in gangster rap correlate with the listeners’ beliefs. For different studies done in the same area, a longitudinal design could be used. By studying kids from childhood and monitoring their music listening tendencies, as well as their actions and beliefs, you could get a more accurate picture of if the music triggers violence than violence triggers appreciation for the music. To increase validity, future studies should consider a stratified, cross-cultural approach. In doing this, a much more representative sample would be assured.

Bem, S. (1978). The difference of sexes based on self-perception. Sex Roles, 8, 27-52. Burt, J. (1947). Philosophy of Music. New York, NY: Sutton/Penguin Books. Burt, M.R. (1980). Cultural myths and support for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 217-230. Johnson, J.D. (1995). Differential gender effects of exposure to rap music on african american adolescents’ acceptance of teen dating violence. Sex Roles, 33, 597-605. Lawrence, J.J. (1991). The effects of effects of sexually rap music on males’ acceptance of violence against women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 49-61. Martin, G. (1993). Adolescent suicide: Music Preferences as an indicator of vulnerability. Journal of Adolescent Psychiatry, 32, 530-535. Wester, F.R. (1997). The influence of sexually violent rap music on attitudes of men with little prior exposure. Psychiatry of Women Quarterly, 21, 497-508.

Submitted 12/6/00 1:14:48 AM
Last Edited 12/6/00 3:48:45 AM
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