Music Exposure and Criminal Behavior: Perceptions of Juvenile Offenders

J Music Ther. 1999;36(3):207-221. doi: 10.1093/jmt/36.3.207.

Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to examine young offenders' perceptions of the relationship between exposure to music and their criminal behavior. Using a tool designed for the study, male felony offenders ages 12 to 17 were questioned about their music listening patterns and the perceived influence of listening on their offending fantasies and behavior. Rap music was the predominant choice across all participant profiles. While 72% of respondents believed that music influenced the way they feel at least some of the time, only 4% perceived a connection between music listening and their deviant behavior. Narrative comments provided by the youths were largely consistent with objective data. Most respondents believed in the reflection-rejection theory, in which music is perceived as a mirror of the adolescents' lives rather than a causative factor in their behavior. Two additional theoretical perspectives were espoused: drive reduction theory, which states that music serves as an expressive vehicle (thus reducing the likelihood of emotional and physical outburst); and excitation-transfer theory, wherein residual physiological arousal affects subsequent behavior. In the latter, music was perceived as harmful only when applied to preexisting states of negative arousal.