According to a study published in the Journal “Pediatrics” earlier this month, a 12-year-old’s preference for what the academics described as “loud, rebellious, and so-called ‘deviant’ music” is a predictor of later delinquency; more so, even, than early delinquency.
In other words, a young teen who loves punk rock is more likely, statistically, to shoplift or vandalize cars at age 16 than a jazz-loving 12-year-old who has already stolen, the research found.
“Music choice is a strong marker of later problem behavior,” they wrote in the article.
Point, Tipper Gore.
There has been much research on the connection between music and problem behavior. (Oh, those Beatles with their long hair!) And while some studies have shown that these connections – especially those claimed in popular discourse – are exaggerated, others have found statistically important links.
In Canadian, Dutch, US, and Swedish studies, researchers have found that from the 1980s onward, young people who prefer rock genres such as heavy metal, goth, and punk consistently also display more risky behavior, such as drunk driving, speeding, and alcohol and drug use. Research also shows that certain hip hop music fans – particularly those devotees of gangsta rap – are more likely than their peers to be involved in gangs, minor delinquency, and alcohol and drug use.
But there’s still a lot of debate about the whys and hows. Do teens inclined toward anti-social behavior simply gravitate to anti-social music? Or do violent music lyrics make teens more accepting of violence? Do teens who start breaking rules with their friends gravitate to music that valorizes their behavior, creating a reinforcing cycle?
In this most recent study, researchers set out to create a theoretical base for exploring these questions. They asked adolescents already involved in a longitudinal study about their music preferences, having them rate 11 popular styles of music on a 5-point scale. They also asked them to fill out a self-reporting questionnaire that measures minor delinquency, where subjects say how many times they had committed minor offenses such as shoplifting, petty theft, and vandalism.
The researchers repeated this process four times, when the subjects were 12, 14, 15, and 16. They worked to control for gender and other factors.
While there is still a lot more to learn, they acknowledge, they did find what they believe is a new starting place to explore the connections between music and behavior: and that’s early in adolescence. What a teen listened to at age 12 had a lot more to do with her behavior at 17 than did her later music taste.
They say there still needs to be more work exploring the why – and that future research should try to distinguish between teens who seem to like “deviant media as part of a longer chain of problem behavior” and those who like particular styles of music because, well, they like it.
“Research needs to consider other young people for whom listening to music, which is often annoying to grown-ups, is energizing, comforting or simply fun, and functions similarly as adolescent-limited problem behavior," they wrote. "That is, as a test of personal and social limits.”