Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Consider the case of Diet Coke. More fat people drink it than skinny people. That means that Diet Coke makes you fat, right?

Well of course not, but this is the same ridiculous backwards logic used in this report that teens who have iPod full of raunchy music have sex at an earlier age than teens with no obscene music. Its a CNN article describing a recent study published in Pediatrics.

Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.

Among heavy listeners, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music.

At no point in the report do they mention the possibility that kids who are more sexualized, and hence will have sex earlier, will also be more apt to seek out music containing sex-soaked lyrics. This reasoning is also often over-looked in video game/violence correlational studies as well. Thats because its much tidier to have a nice straight line suggesting x “causes” y rather than admitting that highly complex behavior like sexual activity and violence cannot easily be put into one box or another.

So pass the Lil’ Kim and Diet Coke, cause its just that easy!


  1. #1 Koray
    August 7, 2006

    Great. Now I know what I’ve been doing wrong. I just need to load the right kind of music to my iPod.

  2. #2 coturnix
    August 7, 2006

    You are good – you actually bothered to comment on this. I compressed all of my commentary into the title.

  3. #3 Robert P
    August 7, 2006

    I guess it is because I listen to folk music that I am such a hick at times.

  4. #4 somnilista, FCD
    August 7, 2006

    They’ve got their next study all lined up: Hip Hop music causes blackness.

  5. #5 Deano
    August 7, 2006

    I guess I wouldn’t be so quick to be hard on this study. We aren’t talking about a simple correlation coefficient here. The authors used a longitudinal design and included a decent amount of theoretically relevant covariates in the analysis. It’s true that the study doesn’t ultimately speak to causation, but the methodology makes it quite suggestive. The amount of variance accounted for is small, but that’s common in psychological research.

    In psychology, it often isn’t feasible for us to use true experimental designs. It helps to look at the study in context. A load of research supports the effect of media violence on aggressive behavior, as well as vicarious and verbally-mediated learning. The hypothesis that sexual lyrics exert a causal influence on sexual behavior theoretically fits. Although it’s correct to say that sexuality is a complex behavior and other variables may exert a larger influence.

    I don’t think this means we censor music/video games/movies, and I’m sure political groups will go beyond the data on this. But the study provides important information and I dont’ think it should be dismissed.

  6. #6 ChemJerk
    August 7, 2006

    Your representation of the research is a cheap shot. The authors admit that the matter you bring up is a factor. They do so in the CNN article and in this NPR interview I heard today. Every scientist (natural, social, historical) relies on reductionism. As long as we recongize this, as these authors do, the research will be kept in it’s proper perspective. I’ll save my criticism for the creator of the article’s oversimplified title.

  7. #7 Tony Stark
    August 7, 2006

    Regarding the comment “We aren’t talking about simple correlation…”. Although I admit that I did not read the study, I fail to understand how the study could eliminated the effects of sex on TV, sexy advertising, sex in magazines, sex in movies, sex on the internet (porn), etc. as possible sources of causation. It would seem likely that some (most, all?) of these other sources would also correlate very highly with the documented behavior. In my opinion, the study (at least as reported in the media) does seem to smack of “simple correlation” not causation.

  8. #8 Deano
    August 7, 2006

    Tony –

    By simple correlation coefficient, I mean a situation where I’m correlating only two variables measured at a single point in time. Univariate regression. This study used a longitudinal design and multivariate regression. This makes it a totally different animal than the “Diet Coke – Fat People” example Shelley used.

    You are correct, though. Exposure to degrading sexual content through the types of media you mention likely also exerts an influence. From the study, “a previous longitudinal study has linked music video consumption and sexual risk behavior.”

  9. #9 Kagehi
    August 7, 2006

    Your representation of the research is a cheap shot.

    Why? The problem with sociological research in general is that its dealing with non-static data, with virtually no true contextual associations. Its one things to run this sort of study, then look at *historical* data, which supports the conclusion. It is another thing to pull something out of your backside which implies causation, but can’t provide any. Arguing that this is valid is no more sane than a few hundred years ago, before people knew about the earth tilting on its axis, proclaiming, “It may be cold at the north pole because there is a lot of ice there!” Uh.. Yeah, if you have *zero* facts, this is a perfectly acceptable hypothesis. It doesn’t change the fact that some nut might come along, based on this genius conclusion, and suggest that they could make the north pole livable, if they just shipped all that ice some place else… I mean, if you believe the conclusion, due to a complete lack of any valid evidence of true causation, its a perfectly reasonable conclusion. Someone showing honesty, understanding of the limitations of the study and sufficient morals to only act on it, ***if*** they have sufficient evidence to suggest its an accurate correlation, would make sure it was reasonably believable “first”. The problem is, the kinds of people that often turn out to have funded, run or ultimately use this kind of data are a) not honest, b) can’t comprehend basic science, never mind the limitations of this sort of study, and c) have absolutely no morals at all when it comes to immediately imposing some draconian or ludicrous standard on everyone around them, based on the assumption that if X “may” be connected to Y, it must also “cause” Y, therefor eliminating Y can be done by eliminating X.

    Of course, the combination of a complete lack of similar causation amongst groups like nudist, most of Europe, or anyone else, who already “lack” the same levels of early sexuality among teens, will also be waved off as somehow completely irrelevant. After all, the study doesn’t mention them, and the sort of people that will make use of this info already think everyone whose opinion doesn’t “support” their delusions are “lying” to them.

  10. #10 pough
    August 8, 2006

    I always thought I was too ugly to get laid when I was young. This is reassuring. Now I can blame U2. Damn you, Bono!

  11. #11 coturnix
    August 8, 2006

    I understood this as a stab at the media reporting not at the study itself.

  12. #12 Shelley Batts
    August 8, 2006

    Yep. The title seemed self-explanatory.

  13. #13 romunov
    August 9, 2006

    … like claiming people with guns kill because they have a gun, and not because they’re fubar… :rolleyes:

  14. #14 Ed Darrell
    August 9, 2006

    So, all we need is some history-degrading music, and kids will be stars at history!

    I can hardly wait until we get math and calculus degrading musice. Oooooh! And Darwin-degrading music, too!

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