Music Preferences and Their Effect upon Suicide

Sep 14, 2017 in Research

Music penetrates all spheres of human life. Reflecting the reality through specific expressive means, it influences the formation and development of spiritual characteristics in listeners. Music preferences of individuals correspond to their esthetic tastes and moral needs. Diverse music genres and styles evoke various emotions and moods. Thus, it is essential to reveal the ability of music style to induce extremely negative emotions and result in suicidal ideation.

Recent publications testify to the growing rates of people who commit suicide worldwide (Definis-Gojanovic, Gugic, Sutlovic, 2009; Brown Campbell, 2010; Stack, Lester, Rosenberg, 2012). Suicide is a crucial multi-faceted issue resulting from various mental, psychological, social, moral, and socio-cultural factors such as physical overload, emotional burnout, social and psychological maladjustment, personal intractable problems, acute traumatic situations, losses of reasons for being, and so forth. Contradicting humanity, suicide involves deliberate self-destructive intentions and actions of self-annihilation. In accordance with Brown, Campbell, suicide is an emotionally charged, highly stigmatized event (Brown, Campbell, 2010, p. 327). Suicidal ideations are accompanied by specific behavioral patterns including music preferences. Researchers involved in suicide-oriented studies identify depression and substance abuse as the major risk factors for suicide (Brown, Campbell, 2010, p. 329).

Despite widely recognized harmonizing effects of music, some styles elicit depressive emotions and promote excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs, contributing to risks associated with suicide. Nearly all older investigations do not measure the characteristics of music per se (key, low notes), but rather focus on lyrics or fanship (Stack et al., 2012, p. 666). According to recent scientific investigations, sounds are more potent sensory stimuli than light or color. In addition to figurative meaning of lyrics, music volume, mode, pitch, percussiveness, and duration affect individuals physically and mentally, causing certain physiological and psychological modifications (Van der Zwaag, Westerink, Van den Broek, 2011). Aggressive, destructive, grimly, remonstrative, and torporific music styles, trends, and directions distort the sense of harmony, replacing it with the powerful flow of negative impacts on the audience.

The emergence of rock music in the 1950s was accompanied by the outbreak of suicide and truly psychic epidemic that destroyed moral barriers designed to deter human ignoble inclinations and brutality. Being promoted in nihilistic lyrics of rock songs, the total permissiveness led to an increase in substance abuse and the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Such new genres of rock music as psychedelic rock, underground rock, heavy metal, and punk rock gained the popularity. The rhythm, frequent alternation of light and shadow, exotic instrumentation, extreme sound loudness, and jumble of sounds specific to rock music in general and punk rock, in particular, destroyed human self-protection mechanisms and self-preservation instincts. Moreover, the increased tempo inherent in rock music caused excitement and tension in listeners and implicitly evoked aggression, anger, depression, and other negative emotions specific to suicidality (Lacourse, Claes, Villeneuve, 2001; Van der Zwaag et al., 2011).

Rock songs are frequently associated with magic rituals, spells, and charms due to their beats and lyrics leading the audience to ecstatic feelings. Decelerating thought processes, rock music excites deep emotions in listeners. Excitatory rock rhythms are intensified by irritating noise; they lead to the nervous overstrain and create an atmosphere of high tension. Sonorous sounds of guitars, trumpets, electronic synthesizers, drumming, light effects, screams, and gestures make a mesmeric impact on listeners, dominating over their thoughts and emotions (Pillsbury, 2006). Light flashes interact with brain alpha waves, inducing humans' losses of the ability to concentrate and control feelings. The technical arsenal of rock music is designed to manipulate a person as a musical instrument. Rock music is able to totally change individual properties, simultaneously affecting emotional, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, and physiological characteristics.

The content of lyrics significantly contributes to emotional states of listeners (Vuoskoski, Eerola, 2012, p. 8). Suicidality-related themes are inherent in rock lyrics (Stack et al., 2012). Metallica's Fade to Black is inextricably linked with feelings and intentions of an individual "who has decided to commit suicide" (Pillsbury, 2006, p.35) (Appendix A). Stack et al. (2012, p. 665) identify "Fade to Black" as one of the most depressing and influential suicidogenic songs. Although politics, disarmament, and antiwar movements were the major themes of heavy metal lyrics, those were closely connected with death, blood, and personal traumas. Young people and teenagers were especially susceptible to disruptive impacts of rock music. However, in accordance with recent research findings, today, preferences for heavy metal music are not directly related to suicidal risk for adolescents (Lacourse et al., 2001, p.333). The given fact can be explained by general changes in cultural preferences occurring worldwide.

Preferences for country music were considered to be a factor contributing to increasing suicidality among residents of rural and remote areas. Discussing such troubling issues as substance abuse, unemployment, poverty, family problems, crime, and so forth, country songs triggered suicidal ideations in the country audience. Since the emergence of country music in the 19th century, its fans were provincial rural people with limited opportunities and gloomy prospects. Suicide ideation is closely connected with social and economic crises; suicide attempts are observed in individuals suffering from depression and psychological traumas. Country fans are characterized by higher rates of divorce, which is one of the major factors for suicide. Specific living conditions and historical demographic roots stipulated high rates of suicide in the country music audience (Stack et al., 2012, p. 660). Thus, listeners' preferences for country music can be evaluated as suicide-related.

Today, music preferences specific to the Goth and Emo subcultures are identified as high risk factors for suicide (Definis-Gojanovic et al., 2009, p. 174; Stack et al., 2012, p. 661). Gothic fashion is the priority indicator of the subculture, including dark clothes and shoes, black hair, and vampire accessories (Appendix B). Gothic rock is a subgenre of punk; it is characterized by pathetic mythical melodies. Despite various musical instruments such as orchestral instruments, synthesizers, guitars, organ, and so forth, it sounds monotonous and gloomy, resembling a funeral dirge. It differs from other punk-originated genres in its lyrics; the basic themes are religion, death, pathetic fate, and unrequited love. The concept of love is dominant in the subculture. In accordance with the data provided by Stack et al. (2012, p. 661), In a longitudinal study of 1,258 youth beginning at age 11, those who identified with the Goth subculture were fully 16.37 times more apt to report at least one previous suicide attempt at age 19 than non-Goths. The given facts testify to the close connectedness between suicidality and preferences for Gothic music.

The Emo subculture is frequently associated with depression and suicidal behaviors in young people. However, their philosophy, trends, and suicidogenic preferences for music appear to be understudied to make such a judgemental conclusion. Depression is advisedly emphasized and reflected in Emo behavioral patterns, hairstyles, clothes, accessories, and music (Appendix C). They strive to express their emotions and experiences as brightly as possible. Music is the epicenter of the Emo subculture and the way to express their views. The confrontation with injustice, psychical vulnerability, extreme sentimentality and emotionality, despair caused by misunderstandings, and willingness to express their demands are the basic subjects of Emo lyrics. Although Emo music can be identified as depressing and suicide-provoking, Some psychologists believe that suicide is not a symptom of Emo culture, assuring that every teen group has emotionally troubled kids (Definis-Gojanovic et al., 2009, p. 174).

In conclusion, social, economic, cultural, and personal preconditions influence human perceptions of music. People are able to distinguish harmonious melodies and life-asserting songs from malicious and depressing music. Human preferences for suicide-associated music should be evaluated from the scientific perspective in order to overwhelm this phenomenon.

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