“Count on Me”—The Influence of Music With Prosocial Lyrics on Cognitive and Affective Aggression

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Abstract

While there has been extensive research on the potentially harmful effects of exposure to songs with aggressive or violent lyrics, little is known about the potential prosocial effects of more positive music; although it is well known that many musicians communicate norms and values of empathy and helping others through their lyrics, the effects of these messages are not well researched. Based on the General Learning Model, we expected that participants who listened to a song with prosocial lyrics would then experience less aggressive thoughts and feelings than recipients who listened to a song with neutral lyrics. An online experiment was conducted to compare the influence of prosocial versus neutral song lyrics on aggression level. A pilot study was first conducted to identify a prosocial and a neutral song, and music professionals and music students rated pairs of songs (by the same artist) that were comparable in terms of recognition, enjoyment, emotional arousal, and intelligibility; for example, Bruno Mars’s “The Lazy Song” and “Count On Me.” Our results indicate that while listening to prosocial lyrics decreases aggressive thoughts, there is no effect on aggressive feelings. One possible explanation is that the upbeat melodies and harmonies present in both the positive and neutral songs overshadowed any effect that lyrics had on feelings.

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