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Music influences ethnic favoritism, study shows

Thomas Bradley / Campus editor

Listening to Bruce Springsteen won’t make you a racist, but according to a recent study the sounds of rock music can cause white college students to favor groups similar to themselves more than other ethnic and racial groups.

In a study conducted by Heather LaMarre, a graduate student in communication at Ohio State, 148 white students listened to three genres of music and were asked to distribute funds to campus groups associated with African American, Arab American, Latino American and agricultural and rural studies.

“People tend to pick music that they relate to, so what we’re saying is the more you listen to music you relate to and identify with, the more you favor your own ethnicity,” said Lamarre, a professor of journalism professor and mass communication at the University of Minnesota.

Students sat in a waiting room with either mainstream rock, Top 40 music or radical white-power rock playing softly in the background for seven minutes before giving their feedback.

The study found that after listening to Top 40 tunes, students distributed tuition funds about equally among the four groups.

Radical rock listeners favored the agriculture group, which pre-tests showed is highly associated with white Americans, designating 40 percent of the funds to them.

They gave roughly 25 percent to Latino Americans, 16 percent to African Americans and only 15 percent to Arab Americans.

“On one hand, we have the people listening to the negative, hateful music. Of course it affects them, and they sort of punish the minority groups,” LaMarre said.

Mainstream rock, such as Springsteen and The White Stripes, yielded about 35 percent of tuition funds going to agriculture studies and equal amounts to the others.

“On the other hand, you have the people listening to the sort of empowering, identifiable, culturally relevant mainstream rock and they’re not trying to punish those groups, but they still favor their own group,” Lamarre said. “So in essence, both groups end up hurting the minority groups, but for different reasons.”

The Top 40 music consisted of artists like Justin Timberlake and Fergie, while the radical rock included Bound for Glory and Prussian Blue.

LaMarre conducted the study alongside associate professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and graduate student Greg Hoplamazian, both of the School of Communication at OSU.

“Heather was in a graduate class that I taught Spring (Quarter) 2007,” Knobloch-Westerwick said in an email. “The idea was developed in that context.”

Under Knobloch-Westerwick, LaMarre began to look closely at how the music on MP3 players affects the listener’s behavior.

In a time when students walk to class plugged into whatever music they choose, she became interested because “they’re not just listening to the radio anymore.”

LaMarre said she has received some flak from critics who say her study attempts to prove that rock music leads to racial discrimination.

“If you identify with Bruce Springteen, the blue-collar, white America that he sings about, it can make you feel so connected that you treat white America better,” she said. “That’s not racism, that’s in-group favoritism.”

The trio tried to test the same theory with African Americans listening to rap, hip-hop and radical rap.

“We found something similar. The problem was we only had nine or 10 participants,” she said.

Due to the small sample, the findings could not be published.

Justin Rupp, a fourth-year in psychology, said as an avid rock music fan, he can’t dispute the results of her study of white students.

“There’s a sense of a different generation being conveyed in rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “It would be interesting to see the effects of country music or techno.”

LaMarre said she would be interested in conducting further studies across all ethnicities and the music genres relevant to their culture.

“Music has the power to do two different things. It has the power, generally, to make you feel so connected to your ethnic and cultural identity that you favor everybody else,” she said. “If it’s hate filled, to make you not just favor your own group, but also punish the groups that are targeted in those hate-filled lyrics.”

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