Background—There is evidence (albeit not fully conclusive) that exposure to violence in the media contributes to violent behaviour in children and adolescents.1–4 Part of the complexity with this relationship may be that some children with a pre-existing tendency to be violent might be more likely to expose themselves to violent media. Nevertheless, a New Zealand-based longitudinal study recently reported that television exposure in childhood and adolescence was associated with increased aggressive and antisocial behaviour, with excessive television exposure having longstanding adverse psychological consequences.5
One particular form of media of particular relevance to young people are music videos as they combine two forms of media that young people tend to enjoy: television and popular music.6 It has been suggested that music combined with lyrics and images has more of an impact on peoples’ attitudes and behaviours than either form alone.7,8 There is evidence that adolescents frequently watch music videos, and these videos can often contain violent imagery6 (e.g., 12% to 22%).9,10Given this background, we aimed to study the content of televised music videos with regards to violence, weapons, antisocial behaviours, sexual content and alcohol use.
Method – Music videos recorded from the New Zealand television channel ‘Juice’ in 2010 over a two-week timeframe (n=861, 353 unique music videos), were examined for violence-related content. Coding methods were developed and refined; and inter-rater reliability assessed. Data on six violence-related themes were collected: violence, weapons, antisocial behaviour, death themes, suicidal behaviour and Goth culture themes. To understand issues around violence glamorisation, we also considered the sexual content of the videos.
Our definitions of violence included verbal and physical violence and where such violence was implied or threatened. Full definitions for each variable are available in an online report11(see Table A1 in the Appendix).Where possible we based our definitions on those used in previous studies.9,12 We used data on alcohol content collected on this same dataset in a previous study in which one of us was involved (NW).13 The specifics of the dataset are outlined in the full online report (Table 1).11
The first 10% (86 videos) were observed by two independent viewers. Cohen’s Kappa scores suggested a favourable level of agreement between the two observers. The remaining 90% of videos were viewed by one observer. Videos identified as portraying any of the six themes were viewed fully and more detailed data were collected.
Results – Over a third (39.3%, 338/861) of these music videos portrayed at least one violence-related theme (95% CI: 36.0%–42.6%). There were a total of 542 such portrayals in these 338 music videos (mean of 1.6 per music video). More specifically, violence was portrayed in 23.7% of videos, and similarly for: the presence of weapon/s (12.9%), antisocial behaviour (10.7%), death themes (8.9%), suicidal behaviour (4.1%), and ‘Goth’ culture themes (2.7%). In the 338 videos that contained one of the violence-related variables (or a combination of these), 42.0% were found to contain sexual content. In a fifth (20.4%) of these, sexual content and violence were present in the same scene.
Violence portrayal was significantly more common in videos in which alcohol was also portrayed (34.5% of those with alcohol), than when alcohol was not portrayed (21.1%) (risk ratio [RR] = 1.65; 95% CI: 1.25–2.18). This was also the pattern for weapons portrayal at 19.6% and 11.3% respectively (RR = 1.65; 95% CI: 1.19 – 2.28). There was potential glamorisation of violence in that a fifth (20.4%) of videos portraying violence-related content (n=338) had sexual content and violence present in the same scene. More detailed results are available in the full online report.11
Conclusions—The finding in this study of violence being portrayed in nearly a quarter (24%) of music videos shown on youth-orientated television in New Zealand is consistent with data from previous research in the US.9 We found that by including violence, weapons, antisocial behaviour, death themes, suicidal behaviour, and Goth culture themes, 39% of videos watched had at least one of such themes (average of 1.6 such themes).
These high levels of violence in music videos are despite the fact that they were broadcast during a time that adolescents are most likely to be watching.14 This is a concern from a public health perspective, given the research that suggests the adverse impacts of such exposure on viewers.5,9,15
We found that portrayal of violence and weapon/s was significantly more common in videos with alcohol content. This is a concern because it is well documented that there is an association between alcohol use and physical and sexual assault.16–18,19
This study is the first to look at violence content in music videos televised in New Zealand, and it is also the first (that we know of) to study antisocial behaviour in music videos internationally. Fortunately there are a range of regulatory and non-regulatory interventions to change media content (as we detail elsewhere11) that could be used if society wished to address this potential driver of violent injury and antisocial acts.
Funding source: The authors would like to thank the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) for funding support. However, the funder had no role in the analysis or the decision to publish. The views in this research letter are also those of the authors alone and do not represent those of ACC.
Acknowledgements: The authors acknowledge the substantial contribution by Kate Sloane, who assisted with initial data collection for the authors to be able to assess inter-rater reliability.
Biostatistician& Research Fellow
Department of Public Health, University of Otago Wellington, New Zealand