What uni taught us about music

With the first uni semester now in full swing and the diet of 2-minute noodles and instant coffee starting to take it’s toll of the first year kids, we’ve opened the books to take a look at some of the in depth academic studies about music and discover why listening to Springsteen makes us racist; how metal leads to mental illness and hearing loss; and why should all workout behind the drum kit.

Rock music makes you racist

According to Heather LaMarre, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota, and associate professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick just a few minutes of Bruce Springsteen or The White Stripes can make you more likely to favour white people over black people and Latinos. White apparently students who listen to Top 40 pop – made by artists such as Gwen Stefani and Akon – are fairer towards other ethnic groups.

138 students were told that they had the opportunity to give feedback about how their tuition money should be distributed to four student groups – called the Centres of African American Studies, Latino American Studies, Arab American Studies, and Rural and Agricultural Studies (that last one’s ‘white’ apparently). Students who were forced to listen to radical ‘white power’ bands like Prussian Blue gave even more money to the Rural and Agricultural Studies group.

Associate professor Knobloch-Westerwick claims that “Good, old-fashioned rock and roll – with no incendiary or hateful lyrics at all – was enough of a cue to increase the percentage of money allocated for the white-American group,’ she said. ‘This appears to be the first study to show that music genre itself, not just the lyrics, has the potential to be a very powerful influence on people.’

Loud music leads to heavier drinking

Groundbreaking research conducted at the University of Portsmouth last year revealed that loud music makes alcohol taste sweeter, leading you to drink more and at a faster rate.

Psychologist, and obvious Nobel Prize candidate, Dr Lorenzo Stafford claims that his study shows that alcoholic drinks taste sweeter when loud music is playing and that this also makes it hard for people to work out how much they are drinking. Stafford reasons that “since humans have an innate preference for sweetness, these findings offer a plausible explanation as to why people consume more alcohol in noisy environments.”

The study featured just 80 participants – 69 females and 11 males aged between 18 and 28 – who were asked to rate a selection of various alcoholic drinks on the basis of alcohol strength, sweetness and bitterness. Participants were also given one of four different levels of distraction, from no distraction to “loud club-type music”.

According to Stafford, his study found that “sweetness perception of alcohol was significantly higher in the music compared to control and other distracting conditions, which is a novel finding and to our knowledge, not seen previously. This is an interesting finding as we might have expected the music… to exert a more distracting effect on taste judgment. It appears that our primary sense of taste is somewhat immune to very distracting conditions, but is indeed influenced by music alone.”

iPods cause hearing loss

A 2010 study led by Dr Hannah Kempler of Ghent University in Belgium claimed that listening to an MP3 player for an hour can have a temporary impact on hearing sensitivity and could lead to long-term damage.

The research published in FasterLouder’s favourite academic journal – Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery reported that iPod earbuds put out 100.0 to 110.5 decibels of sound, well above the 75 decibel threshold for risk of noise-induced hearing loss and that the music pumping directly into the ear canal causes damage by over-stimulating “hair cells” in the inner ear.

Heavy metal can trigger mental illness

“Young people at risk of depression are more likely to be listening to music, particularly heavy metal music, in a negative way,” according to Dr Katrina McFerran, a senior lecturer in Music Therapy at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.

For her research last year Dr McFerran conducted “in-depth interviews” with 50 kids aged between 13 and 18, and surveyed 1000 more in an attempt to develop an early intervention model that could help schools and parents to identify children who may develop behavioural problems.

She says that “The mp3 revolution means that young people are accessing music more than ever before and it’s not uncommon for some to listen to music for seven or eight hours a day… [However] when someone listens to the same song or album of heavy metal music over and over again and doesn’t listen to anything else. They do this to isolate themselves or escape from reality. If this behavior continues over a period of time then it might indicate that this young person is suffering from depression or anxiety, and at worst, might suggest suicidal tendencies.”

Dr McFerran warns parents to be aware of their children’s music listening habits, suggesting that they should “ask their children questions like – how does that music make you feel? If children say the music reflects or mirrors the way they feel then ask more about what the music is saying. If listening doesn’t make them feel good about themselves, this should ring alarm bells. Alternatively, if parents notice a downturn in their child’s mood after listening to music this is also a cause for showing interest and getting involved.”

You got that? It’s bad to listen to music that makes you feel bad.

Drummers are a fit bunch

A sports science report back in 2008 showed that drummers are comparable in physical fitness to elite athletes, perhaps explaining why they favour the shirts-off look.

The eight-year study honed in on Blondie skinsman Clem Burke, a personal favourite of Dr Marcus Smith from University of Chinchester. Smith and a colleague Dr Steve Draper monitored Burke’s “oxygen uptake, blood lactate and heart rate in rehearsals and live performances”.

“For me, as a sports scientist, he is no different to the Olympic athletes I have worked with,” the doctor deduced. “He loses up to two litres of fluid in a performance, which is similar to a runner going out and doing 10,000m.” Burke’s heart-rate averaged 140 to 150 beats a minute, though it could rise as high as 190 beats – which is the same level of exertion Cristiano Ronaldo reaches in a Premier League football game.

The moral of the story: if your parents hadn’t said no to that drum kit, you might now have abs.