Musical tastes may predict problem behaviours in teens

Listening to loud, rebellious music when young could be a marker for minor delinquency like vandalism, a small Dutch study suggests.

Music annoying to adults part of testing limits

Listening to loud, rebellious music when young could be a marker for minor delinquency like vandalism, a small Dutch study suggests.

For decades, social scientists have tested how the loudest forms of music like heavy metal, gangsta rap and techno might promote promiscuous sex, violence and substance use in one-time studies of teens in Canada, the Netherlands, U.S. and Sweden.

Researchers hadn't looked for a link between music preferences and problem behaviour over the developmental span of adolesence until now. (Evan Agostini/Associated Press)

Now researchers have tried to study the association between music and behaviour like shoplifting over the longer time frame of adolescence. It's a developmental period when social relationships with peers and parents change and they say teens often turn to music to enhance their mood and cope with problems.

The Journal of Pediatrics reported that Tom ter Bogt of Utrecht University in The Netherlands and his team asked 309 urban children about their music preferences and how often they had committed minor offences.

They found 12-year-olds who were into hip-hop, metal, goth, punk, trance or techno/hardhouse tended to start getting into trouble, which continued when they were 16.

"This study is the first to provide evidence that an early preference for different types of noisy, rebellious, nonmainstream music genres is a strong predictor of concurrent and later minor delinquency," ter Bogt and his co-authors wrote.

Ter Bogt, who has explored teens' media preferences for a decade, was surprised at the findings. He told the Toronto Star that he enjoyed the heavy metal band Black Sabbath as a teen and got into trouble but never arrested.

In the study, those who liked rock music at 12 were relatively well behaved and they didn't start reporting minor delinquency until age 16. Delinquency was least common among those who liked jazz — a genre that was once considered rebellious. 

Preferring either mainstream pop, classical music or jazz did not seem to predict future delinquency. 

The overall pattern suggested that early music choice indicated later problem behaviour and not the other way around.

"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 … as a test of personal and social limits," they concluded.

The researchers speculated that having a taste for rebellious music attracts a teen to friends with same preferences and peer pressure could encourage misbehaviour.