Pro-Social Song Lyrics and Empathy – New Research

I stumbled across an article this afternoon about prosocial song lyrics and people’s attitudes and behavior’s after listening to such music. It is some interesting research, and I have seen much like it, discussing the impact of music/lyrics on our feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

In general, music does not = people behaving a certain way. Much like just playing let’s say, violent video games does not equal you will be violent. What cultural products like this do is create environments and social realities, that can make some actions easier to enact. Hence, living in a violent culture or unsocial culture, being expose to similar media, therefore, makes it easier to do such things. But just watching or listening to something does not guarantee behavior.

Anyways, that said, the article was interesting and basically found that students who listened to pro-social song lyrics as opposed to neutral song lyrics were more likely to be empathic, and help the other researcher when they spilled some items during the study, filled in fragment words with pro-social words, (like “give” for g—), asked what they would do if a friend’s children needed a place to stay after their parents tragic death, or how they felt about reading an essay about someone’s personal troubles.

There are plenty of numbers and Likert scales later, but listening to these lyrics produced more emphatic feelings and actions in that research group.

Pro-Social Lyrics: “Heal the World” (Michael Jackson), “Ein bißchen Frieden” (Nicole), “We Are the World” (Liveaid), and “Help” (Beatles), “Love Generation” (Bob Sinclair) and “Feed the World” (U2 with Band Aid).

Neutral Lyrics: “On the Line” (Michael Jackson), “Spiel um deine Seele” (Peter Maffay), “An Englishman in New York” (Sting), and “Octopus’s Garden” (Beatles), “Rock This Party” (Bob Sinclair) and “Vertigo” (U2).

The only problems I have with this study was song choice, clear definition of pro-social, and how do you account for the sonic qualities of music’s effect on emotions?

1). I think the artists should have been varied. Too much Michael Jackson, Beatles, and U2 (not that I don’t like either of them). I would not have repeated artists, and I would have added some more female musicians. (Of course I would).

2). What exactly is pro-social? Is it song lyrics about helping people, giving money/time, being nice, not being racist/sexist/classist, non-violent lyrics, or just lyrics about getting out there and not hiding in you room twittering?

3.) The actual music, not just lyrics can affect our thoughts and actions. Doesn’t your heart beat thump faster when you hear a fast-paced drum line? Doesn’t your pulse slow down when you hear a slow, smooth bass line? We listen to music at times to change our emotions and actions. Some people listen to music to pump them up before a football game, others to feel better about a bad breakup.

I think this research is great, just a few unclarified issues from my point of view.

If you can, you can read the article here:

Effects of Songs With Prosocial Lyrics on Prosocial Behavior: Further Evidence and a Mediating Mechanism by Tobias Greitemeyer at University of Sussex, 2009.

Photo Credit: Sheet Music by jrossol, Woman Holding Microphone by skyfaller on Flikr Creative Commons.

Until next time, rock on!

Posted on January 4, 2010, in Pick Guards - Music Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Pro-Social Song Lyrics and Empathy – New Research.

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