Friday, May 12, 2006

Gender Differences in Response to Sexual Lyrics

Okay, I have been feeling bad about the lack of posts focusing on actual research that's been going on in the lab. Last summer I was collecting data from an experiment investigating the impact of doubling the number of commercial units in a radio stopset without increasing the overall duration of the commercial break itself. (You can read more about that particular study and i's findings by reading this blog post.)

The stimuli for that experiment consisted of creating excerpts from two radio stations--using 8 actual popular songs from the CHR/Pop charts at the time. For those of you who are unaware of what goes into the typical experimental data collection session when physiological data are collected, the participant comes in and is exposed to the media individually. This is because they get fitted for electrodes to measure various physiological reactions. In other words,--as opposed to experiments where physiology aren't collected, and therefore groups of participants can be run at one time--in physiology data collection you have to play the stimuli for each participant...ONE AT A TIME.

That means that the experimenters who collect the data become very familiar with the stimuli. And that was the case with these "radio shows" and the eight songs. During the data collection, my two research assistants commented on the sexual content of the lyrics of two of the songs. Not only that, but the mentioned that the female research participants would seem to have have adverse physiological reactions while listening to these two songs.

That got us thinking of a secondary analysis we could do...investigating whether males and females responded to the songs differently. Severall months ago I announced this possibility in an ICR Lab meeting...but because we were all busy, nothing came of it at the time.

Then, the May 1 deadline for submissions to the Society for Psychophysiological Research rolled around. Two other graduate students, Pamela Gayle Nadorff and James Angelini, both of whom have an interest in gender-issues in media, reminded me of the analysis and asked if they could do it.

Sure, why not.

But, the more I started looking at the 8 songs we played to the participants the more I realized that there were actually 4 we could use to test a more elaborate question. Two of the songs were the original ones that caught our attention. They were sung by male rap singers and consisted of lyrics where women were presented as objects for the man's sexual satisfaction:

Balla Baby by Chingy


Get Back by Ludacris

Then, there were two of the songs that were song by female rappers and the lyrics focused on men as sex objects:

Lose my Breath by Destiny's Child


1,2, Step by Ciara

The two physiological measures we analyzed from 28 females and 18 males were corrugator muscle activity (basically how much their frown muscles were activated while listening) and their skin conductance responses (SCRs). SCRs are measured on the palms of the hands and basically indicate how arousing the subjects felt while the songs were playing.

And the results? Well, I have ALWAYS been one who listens to lyrics closely. And, I thought that most people focus on the beat of a song rather than the lyrics. But...just as we predicted...female listeners had more negative emotion during the songs where the lyrics portrayed women as sex objects. In the figure below, this is represented by the greater corrugator activity during the female-focused songs (blue line) compared to the male-focused songs (green line):

And, although it is a less pronounced effect, we found greater frown activity in male listeners during songs when female rappers talk about using men as sex objects green line) compared to songs where men are talking about their sexual proclivity (blue line):

The other interesting finding was that there was not a difference in arousal level according to the lyrics. That doesn't mean there wasn't an effect, though. Males, regardless of the gender-focus of the lyrics, had more skin conductance responses during the songs than females.


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