Rock, Pop, White Power: How Music Influences Support for Ethnic Groups

Newswise, March 5, 2012

Just a few minutes of listening to mainstream rock music was enough to influence white college students to favor a student group catering mostly to whites over groups serving other ethnic and racial groups, a new study found.

However, white students who listened to more ethnically diverse Top 40 pop music showed equal support for groups focused on whites, African Americans, Arab Americans and Latino Americans.

While the rock music had no lyrics related to race or ethnicity, the music itself may unconsciously bring to mind positive feelings among white people about others like themselves, said Heather LaMarre, lead author of the study, who did the work as a doctoral student in communication at Ohio State University.

“Rock music is generally associated with white Americans, so we believe it cues white listeners to think about their positive association with their own in-group,” said LaMarre, who is now an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota.

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Students in a third group listened to radical white-power rock, a genre tied to white supremacist groups. These students gave more support to the white group than students who listened to rock or pop music, and gave the least support to African-American and Arab-American groups.

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The study involved 148 undergraduate students, who were told they would be participating in a study concerning the funding of student groups on campus using tuition funds.

When each participant arrived for the study, they were told to wait for the beginning of the session. They were placed in a waiting room with music playing softly in the background. They were not allowed to have access to any other media, including music players, computers, phones or reading materials.

Participants sat for seven minutes while the music played in the background. They listened to one of three types of music: mainstream rock (artists included Bruce Springsteen and The White Stripes), Top 40 pop music (including Justin Timberlake, Fergie and Akon and Gwen Stefani), or radical white power rock (including the bands Prussian Blue, Screwdriver, and Bound for Glory).

The participants were then called in and told they had the opportunity to give feedback about how their tuition money should be distributed to four student groups.

The groups all had identical descriptions about what they did, but listed different ethnic affiliations: the centers for African American Studies, Latino American Studies, Arab American Studies, and Rural and Agricultural Studies. (Pre-tests showed that rural and agricultural studies was highly associated with whites among college students.)

Findings showed that those who listened to the Top 40 music split the funds nearly equally—about one-fourth of the money to each of the four groups.

Those who listened to the mainstream rock gave about 35 percent of the funds to the white-American group—and roughly equal amounts to the other three groups.

Those who listened to the radical white power rock gave the most of all the participants to the white-American group—about 40 percent. They gave about 25 percent to the Latino-American group, about 16 percent to the African-American group and about 15 percent to the Arab-American group.

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“Those who listened to the rock music gave more to the white group, but split the rest equally among the other three—in other words they weren’t punitive against the others as were the listeners of the white power rock.”

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While this study only involved white students and three genres of music, she said it’s likely that other races and ethnicities have their own biases which could be activated by listening to music, whether it is rap, country or any other type.

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