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This article assesses the link between country music and metropolitan suicide rates. Country music is hypothesized to nurture a suicidal mood through its concerns with problems common in the suicidal population, such as marital discord, alcohol abuse, and alienation from work. The results of a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas show that the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the greater the white suicide rate. The effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty, and gun availability. The existence of a country music subculture is thought to reinforce the link between country music and suicide. Our model explains 51% of the variance in urban white suicide rates.
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Social Forces, University of North Carolina Press
The Effect of Country Music on Suicide
Author(s): Steven Stack and Jim Gundlach
Source:
Social Forces,
Vol. 71, No. 1 (Sep., 1992), pp. 211-218
Published by: University of North Carolina Press
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The Efect of County Music on Suicide
SIEVEN STACK,
Wayne State University
JiM GUNDLACH,
Auburn
University
Abstract
T7his
article
assesses
the link between
country
music
and metropolitan suicide
rates.
Country
music
is hypothesized
to nurture a suicidal
mood
through its concerns
with
problems common in the suicidal
population,
such as marital
discord, alcohol abuse,
and
alienation from work. The
results of a multiple regression
analysis of 49 metropolitan
areas show
that the greater the
airtime
devoted to country
music,
the
greater the
white
suicide rate. The effect
is independent
of divorce,
southernness, poverty, and gun
availability.
The
existence
of
a country
music
subculture is thought
to reinforce
the
link
between
country
music and
suicide. Our
model
explains 51%
of the
variance
in urban
white
suicide
rates.
Sociological
work on the relationship
between art and society
has been largely
restricted to speculative, sociohistorical theories that are often mutually
opposed.
Some theorists
see art as creating
social structure
(Adorno 1973), while
Sorokin
(1937) suggests that society and art are manifested in cyclical autono-
mous spheres;
and still others
contend
that
art
is a reflection of social structure
(Albrecht
1954).
Little
empirical
work
has been done on the impact
of music on
social problems.
While some research has linked music to criminal
behavior
(Singer,
Levine & Jou
1990),
the
relationship
between music and
suicide remains
largely unexplored.
Music is not mentioned in reviews of the literature
on
suicide (Lester 1983;
Stack
1982, 1990b);
instead,
the impact
of art on suicide
has
been largely
restricted to analyses
of television movies and soap operas (for
a
review, see Stack
1990b).
In this article,
we explore the link between a particular
form of popular
music (country
music) and metropolitan
suicide rates. We contend that the
themes found in country
music foster
a suicidal
mood among people
already
at
risk of suicide and that it is thereby
associated with a high suicide rate.
The
effect is buttressed
by the
country
subculture and a link between
this
subculture
and a racial
status related to an increased suicide risk.
* Data on suicide mortality and most other variables were provided by the Inter-University
Consortium for Political and Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. We are
grateful to Richard Peterson for his inspirations and helpful discussions, to the anonymous
reviewersfor their probing reviews, and to Mitch Henryfor his help in gathering the data on
country
music. Direct correspondence to Steven Stack, Department of Sociology, Wayne State
University, Detroit, MI 48202.
i The University of North Carolina
Press Social Forces, September 1992, 71(1):211-218
212 / Social Forces 71:1, September 1992
The Explanatory
Scheme
Music can directly
affect
psychological moods, which often are a contributing
factor in suicide (e.g., Asmus 1985). To the extent that the audience of a
particular type of music forms
a subculture
- a group
that holds special
values
and beliefs and that
interacts
recurrently
- the impact
of music on mood and
behavior can be multiplied (Gross
1990).
We suggest that country
music fans
form a subculture that reinforces a suicidal mood conveyed in the themes of
country
music.
The subculture is pulled together
by such shared traits as mode
of dress,
taste
in music,
radio
stations
listened
to, concerts
attended,
and a value
attributed to rural life-styles; some evidence suggests a certain degree of
subcultural
support
for racial and
gender
inequality
as well (e.g.,
Peterson 1991).
Country
music fans constitute
a national subculture
bearing some relation-
ship to social class and region. As Peterson and DiMaggio (1975) point out,
country
music has diffused beyond an audience of the southern, rural, lower
class, capturing the imaginations of the working and lower middle classes
(Peterson 1991). It has diffused out of the South as well. Furthermore,
the
country
music audience is still disproportionately
white (Peterson
1991; Peterson
& DiMaggio
1975).
Whites have a suicide rate
double that
of blacks,
who tend
to externalize
aggression (Henry
& Short
1954).
Audience
receptiveness
(Blumer
1969)
to suicidogenic problems
such as alcohol
abuse or marital
discord is fairly
high among country music s white audience:
whites have a relatively high
suicide rate and tend to internalize
aggression
when frustrated.
Content
analyses of country
songs note a number of suicidogenic
themes
that can foster suicide (e.g., Lewis 1989;
Peterson
1991).
One such theme is
disharmony between the sexes, especially marital strife and dissolution
(Chandler & Chalfant
1985; Lewis 1989). In a content analysis of 1,400 hit
country songs, Rogers (1989)
found that
nearly
three-fourths had the travails
of
love as at least one of their themes.
Given a link between marital
breakdown
and suicide (e.g., Stack 1990a), this country music theme might nurture a
preexisting
suicidal mood. Furthermore,
the same songs often contained other
references to social problems that might serve as additional
points of iden-
tification
(Peterson
1991).
Country music may nurture suicide through its theme of alcohol abuse
(Chalfant
& Beckley 1977;
Connors & Alpher
1989;
Schaefer
1988). Lyrics
often
portray drinking as a normal and necessary method of dealing with life's
problems (Chalfant
& Beckley
1977).
Field research on drinking
behavior
has
linked
exposure
to country
music to increased levels of consumption
of alcohol
(Schaefer 1988).
Alcohol consumption,
in turn,
has often been associated with
increased suicide risk (e.g., Wasserman
1989).
Additional themes in country music that might nurture
a suicidal mood
include
financial strain and exploitation
at work (Peterson 1991).
Often
a sense
of fatalism or hopelessness is conveyed in these songs. Hopelessness is
considered a key psychological
state underlying
suicide risk (Beck
et al. 1985).
A sense of bitterness and hopelessness pervades many country songs about
Effect of Country Music on Suicide / 213
farmers, for example. Singing of a man whose farm has been auctioned off, the
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band notes: "Worked
this place all my life, broke my heart,
took my wife. Now I got nothing to show" (Peterson 1991:8).
More generally, many country songs have addressed and continue to
chronicle the lonesome and often abusive features of life among the lower
socioeconomic classes (Schaefer 1988).
Alfred Reed's "How Can a Man Stand
Such Things and Live?" suggests a connection
between suicide and impoverish-
ment.
Billy Hill's 1989
hit, "There's
Too Much Month at the End of the Money,"
reflects the same problems of financial strain that have been dealt with in
decades of country songs (Peterson
1991). However, financial strain
is also felt
among
the working
and middle classes in terms of relative deprivation. Persons
in these classes may also identify with the financial strains of the poor in
country songs.
Identification with exploitation
at work can also cut across class lines.
Country songs often use long-distance truckers as an illustration of such
exploitation,
but truckers are not technically
part of the official poverty class.
In
Dave Dudley's "Six
Days on the Road," for example, truckers
are portrayed
as
enduring
all kinds of dangers and alienating working
conditions
- long hours,
pep pills, evading police, violating load limit restrictions, fatigue - all in a
desperate
effort to meet loan payments
on their
rigs. (For
further
discussion,
see
Peterson
1991.)1
Through connecting
with suicidogenic
conditions
and
moods of the suicidal
population, country
music may increase suicide risk. Country
music per se is
not expected
to drive
people to suicide.
But, given the existence of an organized
country subculture,
the risk
of suicide is enhanced. Since
country
music
appeals
disproportionately
to whites (e.g., Peterson
1991;
Peterson & DiMaggio
1975),
we anticipate
that the relationship
between suicide and music will be stronger
for whites than for blacks.
Methodology
Our
sample
is comprised
of 49 large
metropolitan
areas for which
data
on music
were available.
Exposure
to country music is measured
as the proportion
of
radio airtime
devoted to country
music (as opposed to other forms of music,
such as rock and classical).
The data are from
the Radio and Records
Rating Report
and
Directory, Spring
1985.
Suicide
data were extracted from the annual
Mortality Tapes,
obtained from
the Inter-University
Consortium
for Political
and Social Research
(ICPSR)
at the
University
of Michigan.
The dependent
variable is the number
of suicides per
100,000 population.
Rates
are calculated
for both whites and blacks (e.g., the
white suicide rate refers to the number
of white suicides
per 100,000 whites).
It
would also be desirable
to calculate suicide rates
by social class and by urban
vs. rural location
to test the massification
(of country music)
thesis
as it applies
to these variables
(Peterson
& DiMaggio 1975),
but such data are unavailable.
An average
of the 1984 and 1985 rates was taken to reduce
measurement
error.
(For
a systematic
defense of official suicide
data,
see Pescosolido
& Mendelsohn
1986).
214 / Social Forces 71:1,
September 1992
In order to test for spuriousness in any zero-order
relationship between
music and suicide,
control variables are introduced.
First,
an index of structural
poverty (e.g., Bankston, Allen & Cunningham 1983) was constructed.
If country
music is still largely the music of the impoverished, then the relationship
between
country
music and suicide,
if any, may be reduced
or may even vanish
once poverty
is controlled. Five indicators of structural
poverty
were available
in CO-STAT
3, which was obtained from the ICPSR at the University of
Michigan (U.S. Department of Commerce 1988). These indicators are the
percentage of households without plumbing, the infant mortality rate, the
percentage of female-headed
households with children, the percentage of
families who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and the
percentage
of families with incomes of less than $2,500 a year. These were
combined
into an index using principle components analysis.2
Country music
has traditionally
been associated with the South, although
some have argued
that it is no longer exclusively
a southern
phenomenon (Peterson
& DiMaggio
1975).
In order to disentangle
country
music
from
southern
culture,
a control for
southem region was introduced (1 - South, 0 = non-South,
where South is
comprised
of south
Atlantic,
east
southcentral,
and west southcentral states
[U.S.
Bureau of the Census
1991]).
Divorce is a powerful
determinant
of suicide
(e.g.,
Trovato
1987;
Wasserman
1990).
Because marital trouble is a key theme in country music, divorce and
country music may be related. Crude divorce rates were extracted from
CO-STAT 3. Suicide
is also related to opportunity
factors such as the
availability
of firearms, which are the chief means of suicide in the U.S. (Clarke & Lester
1989). Since the stories in country music often encourage gun, ownership
(Peterson, pers. com.),
it is important
to control for this factor.
Gun
availability
is measured as the
number of retail outlets
(per 100,000 population)
listed under
"guns"
or "firearms" in the Phonefiche version of the yellow pages (University
Microfilms International
1980). (For
an extended discussion of this measure of
gun availability,
see Gundlach
1990.)
Results
A significant
zero-order correlation was found between
white suicide rates and
country
music (r=.54, p<.05).
The
greater
the airtime
given to country
music,
the
greater
the white suicide rate.
The black suicide
rate
was not related
to country
music (r=.11, p>.05). Country music was also significantly
related to gun
availability (r=.50, p<.05).
Metropolitan
areas high in country
music also are
high in opportunity
for suicide. Country
music was also related to divorce
(r=.51, p<.05) and to southern location (r=.26, p<.05). It was not, however,
related to structural
poverty, indicating support for the massification thesis.
Other factors related to white suicide were divorce,
southern
location,
and the
structural
poverty
index.
In order to test for possible
spuriousness
in the link between
country
music
and suicide, ordinary
least squares regression techniques
were applied. The
equations were first checked for problems of multicollinearity
and outliers,
which could invalidate the results. A crude variance inflation factor
(VIF)
test
Effect of Country Music on Suicide / 215
derived from auxiliary regressions did not detect any multicollinearity (Neter,
Wasserman & Kutner 1985). None of the VIFs were larger than 5. Nor was any
multicollinearity
found
using Belsley, Kuh, and Welsch's (1980) condition index
as a criterion. No condition indices
were greater than
30 and no two variances
associated with any condition index were both greater than .50. Finally,
standardized residuals were computed as a test for outliers. Since none of these
were larger
than
4, the estimates are also free of the problem
of outliers.
Controlling for the other independent variables in the equation, the greater
the exposure to country music, the greater
the suicide
rate for whites (panel A),
but not for blacks (panel B). The country coefficient
for whites is twice its
standard
error. This effect is independent
of the controls including the co-
variates
of country
music:
gun availability,
southern
location,
and divorce.
It is
also independent of structural
poverty, which indicates that country music
exerts
an impact on suicide independent of any association with poverty. Also,
the greater
the divorce
rate,
the greater
the white suicide
rate.
Finally,
southern
region
affects
suicide. An analysis
of beta coefficients indicates that the divorce
rate (13-.30)
was only somewhat more closely tied to the variance in suicide
than was music (p-.27) and southern
region
(P=.27).
The
model,
which explains
51%
of the variance
in urban
white suicide rates,
is largely inapplicable to black
suicide rates.
Conclusion
This is the first study to assess the impact
of country
music on suicide. Whites
are the typical consumers of country music and are more closely tied to the
country
subculture than are blacks. For our sample of 49 major
U.S. cities, we
found that the greater
the percentage
of radio time devoted to country music,
the
higher
the incidence of white suicide;
black suicide was unrelated
to country
music. Our interpretation
stresses themes
in country
music noted by Peterson
(1991).
These recurrent
patterns,
which stress problems
such as alcohol
abuse,
are assumed to promote
audience identification and thereby
to promote
suicide
through
the reinforcement of preexisting suicidal moods (Blumer
1969).
While
country
music
per se probably
will not drive
people to suicide, given its link to
a subculture
and its appeal
to persons
within the subculture who are
already
at
increased
risk of suicide, it can impact
on suicide rates.
The
study has some implications
for the debate on the diffusion of country
music. While
country
music has been
historically
the music of lower
classes,
we
found
no association between
poverty
and
country
music. This
finding supports
the massification thesis that
country
music has diffused across the spectrum
of
social classes.3 In addition,
there was only a weak association
between
country
music and southern
region. Country
music fans may constitute an emerging
"culture
class" (Peterson
& DiMaggio 1975).
Our
results have some bearing
on the debate over
media
impacts
on suicide.
Although the songs are largely fictional, they are associated with increases in
suicide. Furthermore, the songs generally do not involve any overt acts of
suicide,
but simply
nurture a suicidal mood.
In
contrast,
fictional suicide
stories
such as those in soap operas
and television
films, which contain
overt suicidal
216 / Social Forces 71:1,
September 1992
TABLE
1: The Effect of Country Music, Structural Poverty, Southern Region,
Divorce, and Gun Availability on Metropolitan Suicide Rates
Panel A
White Suicide Rate
b t-test VIF'
Country music 0.27 0.13 2.03* 1.53
Structural
poverty 0.13 0.28 1.06 1.37
Southern region 0.27 2.17 2.04* 1.53
Divorce 0.30 0.74 2.34* 1.52
Gun availability 0.08 0.20 0.64 1.53
Intercept 7.73 5.58*
R2 0.51
Panel B
Black Suicide Rate
b t-test VIF
Country
music 0.06 0.02 0.34 1.53
Structural
poverty -0.18 -0.26 -1.06 1.37
Southem
region -0.16 -0.89 -0.90 1.53
Divorce -0.009 -0.01 -0.05 1.52
Gun
availability 0.18 0.30 1.02 1.53
Intercept 6.39 4.94*
R2 0.11
(N - 49)
'VIF - variance
inflation
factor
* p < .05
behavior,
are unrelated
to suicide
(Stack 1990b). Country songs,
unlike television
stories, appear recurrently
as part of a musical subculture. It is possible that
fictional work in the media is more apt to promote
suicide risk if it occurs
as
part of a long-standing
cultural nexus. In that context, associations can be
frequent,
durable over time, and highly accessible.
In contrast,
fictional
suicide
stories are scattered
over time, relatively infrequent,
and not connected
to a
subculture.
Our model is largely inapplicable to black suicide, an understudied
phenomenon (Stack 1982). Perhaps new theoretical
approaches
need to be
developed to explain adequately
the variation in metropolitan
black suicide
rates.
Effect of Country Music on Suicide / 217
Notes
1. Peterson (1991) also notes some patterns that might decrease what we see as the basic
suicidogenic nature of country music's themes. There is also an undercurrent stressing pride
in poverty, for example, suggesting that there is less sexual gratification in the middle class
(see, e.g., Jeanne Pruett's "Satin
Sheets"). One might anticipate that rock music might also
increase
suicide, given the mention of suicide in its lyrics.
Survey
research on the psychological
reactions
of rock music's audience
finds, however, that
rock
music elicits antisuicidal
moods of
happiness, delight, and love (Wells 1990).
2. An analysis using the percentage of individuals below the poverty level as an index of
poverty yielded the same results as those using the structural
poverty index.
3. Hypothetically,
one might anticipate
that the association between
country
music and suicide
reflects a white, lower-class,
southern subculture
more prone to violence. This argument
has
been the subject
of much debate in the literature on homicide (see, e.g., Land,
McCall
& Cohen
1990 for a review). Given differences in the etiology of suicide and homicide (e.g., Henry &
Short
1954), however, lower-class status and/or a southem subculture of violence might affect
homicide
more than suicide. In our study, the southem regional variable
was indeed associated
with suicide, but structural
poverty was not. This is essentially the reverse of the typical
findings on homicide rates.
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24:105-17.
... The notion of musical subculture has been used to explain association between several specific musical forms and suicidality at the aggregate/regional level. Links between suicidality and the following musical forms have been established: heavy metal (Stack, 1998; Stack, Gundlach, & Reeves, 1994), country music (Stack & Gundlach, 1992, 1995), opera (Stack, 2002), and blues (Stack, 2000b). In this perspective music does not in itself drive people to suicide. ...
... In this perspective music does not in itself drive people to suicide. For example, in the case of country music subculture, pre-existing factors probably account for a macro-level association between country music radio market share and white suicide rates in 49 cities (Stack & Gundlach, 1992). Country music fans are already at somewhat higher risk given their higher incidence of divorce and gun ownership, two noted risk factors for suicide (Lester 2000; Stack & Gundlach, 1992, 1995). ...
... For example, in the case of country music subculture, pre-existing factors probably account for a macro-level association between country music radio market share and white suicide rates in 49 cities (Stack & Gundlach, 1992). Country music fans are already at somewhat higher risk given their higher incidence of divorce and gun ownership, two noted risk factors for suicide (Lester 2000; Stack & Gundlach, 1992, 1995). ...
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The effect of art on suicide risk has been a neglected topic in suicidology. The present article focuses on what is probably the best known song concerning suicide, Gloomy Sunday, the "Hungarian suicide song." An analysis of historical sources suggests that the song was believed to trigger suicides. It was, for example, banned by the BBC in England until 2002. The alleged increase in suicides in the 1930s associated with the playing of the song may be attributed to audience mood, especially the presence of a large number of depressed persons as a result of the Great Depression. The influence of music on suicide may be contingent on societal, social, and individual conditions, such as economic recessions, membership in musical subcultures, and psychiatric disturbance. Further research is needed on art forms, such as feature films, paintings, novels, and music that portray suicides in order to identify the conditions under which the triggering of suicides occurs.
... In addition, individual level studies cannot identify the broader effects of music cultures on the health of all community members. Although a previous study found an association between country music radio time and increased suicide rates across 49 US metropolitan areas, 14 studies of area level heavy metal prevalence on health are lacking. ...
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Objective To assess the association between area level density of heavy metal bands and cause specific hospital admissions and mortality. Design Longitudinal register based cohort study. Setting 311 municipalities in Finland. Participants 3 644 944 people aged 15 to 70 residing in Finland at the end of 2001. Main outcome measures Hospital admission and mortality from all causes, internal causes, alcohol attributable causes, accidental injury and violence, suicide or self-harm, and mental health related causes. Appendicitis and toxic effects of metals were negative control outcomes. Results During 50.4 million person years of follow-up in 2002-17, 4 237 807 person years with hospital admissions were observed and 221 912 individuals died. Mortality in municipalities with a moderate density of heavy metal bands (<5.7 per 10 000 inhabitants) was lower than in municipalities with no heavy metal bands. Hospital admission rates were lower in municipalities with heavy metal bands compared with those with none. These associations could be explained partly by differences in the sociodemographic characteristics of residents in these municipalities. After adjustment for individual characteristics and area level cultural and economic characteristics—proportion of the population with no religious affiliation, unemployment rate, and per capita expenditure on culture and education—large cities with a high density of heavy metal bands (8.2-11.2 per 10 000) showed a mortality advantage (hazard ratio 0.92, 95% confidence interval 0.88 to 0.96). In contrast, the association for hospital admission was fully attenuated (incidence rate ratio 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.92 to 1.06). The cause specific analysis showed similar results, with the association most pronounced for alcohol attributable mortality (hazard ratio 0.83, 95% confidence interval 0.75 to 0.93 for cities with a high density of heavy metal bands) and alcohol attributable hospital admissions (incidence rate ratio 0.84, 95% confidence interval 0.74 to 0.97 for cities with a high density of heavy metal bands) in the fully adjusted models. No association with heavy metal band density was found for the analysis using appendicitis as a negative control outcome. Conclusions The study found no evidence for adverse health outcomes with increasing density of heavy metal bands. Cities with a high density of heavy metal bands showed slightly lower rates of mortality and of hospital admissions for alcohol related problems and self-harm. Although residual confounding remains a problem in observational studies, vibrant local heavy metal scenes—comparable to many other forms of cultural capital—might help to promote health through healthier lifestyles, better coping mechanisms, and a stronger sense of community.
... A continuación algunos antecedentes investigativos referentes al vínculo entre géneros musicales y el suicidio: Stack (2000) concluyó que el blues por el énfasis en temas tristes (desamor, agresión, conflictos, rabia) puede atraer a personas con tendencias suicidas y reforzarlas, así también con frecuencia quienes escuchan ópera (centrada en temas como la muerte, e incluso suicidio por deshonor) acepta más facilmente el suicidio. Stack y Gundlach (1992) manifiestan que a mayor frecuencia de escucha del género country, mayor es el índice de suicidas blancos, pero que por sí solo este género no ocasiona los suicidios, sino en las subculturas que lo adoptan como elemento de su identidad. El autor señala que también está relacionado con el índice de divorcios. ...
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Several studies have investigated emotional reactions to instrumental music. However, studies on the effect of lyrics on emotions are limited. Previous studies suggest that the importance of lyrics may vary cross-culturally. The aim of this study was twofold: to investigate the effects of lyrics on aroused emotions and psychological mechanisms with music and to explore whether these differ cross-culturally. Fifty participants from Portugal and Sweden listened to six musical stimuli based on two songs, one representing each culture. These were presented in three versions each: the original, an instrumental, and the instrumental version with lyrics on the screen. The Portuguese and Swedish participants differed notably: the presence of lyrics did not affect listeners’ happiness in neither group as predicted, but did increase sadness, albeit only in the Portuguese group. Lyrics also increased nostalgia for the Portuguese listeners as predicted and surprise-astonishment for the Swedish listeners. Regarding the mechanisms, lyrics increased the activation of episodic memory in both groups, and the activation of evaluative conditioning, contagion, and visual imagery in the Portuguese group. The present study indicates that lyrics have an effect on musical emotions and mechanisms which vary between groups of different cultural backgrounds.
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Background: For several decades, the question of whether personal suicidality is reflected in individual music preferences has been the subject of debate in suicide research. Despite many studies investigating the relationship between music use and suicidal behavior, it is still unclear whether suicide risk is reflected in individual music preferences. Aims: The present study aimed to assess whether music preferences are reflected in suicide risk factors. Method: We assessed suicidal ideation, depression, and hopelessness among 943 participants in a cross-sectional online survey. Participants provided up to five examples of their favorite music. We conducted a content analysis and coded all reported songs as suicide-related, coping-related, or unrelated to suicide. Results: Multivariate analyses controlling for gender, age, education level, and amount of daily music use indicated associations of preferences for suicide-related songs with suicidal ideation and depression. Limitations: Limitations of the present study include the use of a convenience sample and a cross-sectional design, the small number of participants with preferences for coping-related songs, and the relatively small effect size of the associations found. Conclusion: Music preferences appear to reflect suicide risk factors, with individuals who prefer suicide-related songs scoring higher in terms of suicidal ideation and depression.
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