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Study links risky teen behaviors to heavy dose of rap music videos

Risky behavior and a heightened incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among African-American female adolescents may be linked to high exposure to rap music videos, according to a study in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Although there has been considerable concern about the themes and images expressed in rap music videos, there has been limited research on the impact of rap music videos on adolescents’ behavior, the article says. ‘Gangsta rap’ in particular, the researchers say, "is explicit about sex and violence, but rarely shows the potential long term adverse impact of these risky behaviors."

Gina M.Wingood, ScD, MPH, of the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, and her colleagues from Emory University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, assessed the risky behaviors of teens who regularly watched rap videos. After a twelve-month follow-up period, they calculated the adolescents’ involvement in such behaviors such as: hitting teachers, fighting, being arrested, using alcohol or drugs, and having multiple sex partners. The adolescents were also asked to report condom use and were tested for three STDs (chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and gonorrhea).

The study was conducted on 522 unmarried African-American female adolescents (aged 14-18 years) who lived in non-urban, lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. They were recruited from school health classes and county health department clinics. The adolescents had to have been sexually active in the previous six months.

The researchers found that adolescents with high exposure to rap music (i.e. 14 hours or more per week) were 3 times more likely to hit a teacher and more than 2.5 times as likely to have been arrested, compared with their peers who had less exposure to rap music. Adolescents who frequently watched rap videos were also twice as likely to have multiple sexual partners and more than 1.5 times as likely to acquire an STD, use drugs, and use alcohol during the 12-month study.

Dr. Wingood offers several hypotheses as to why African-American female adolescents are particularly prone to emulate the behavior seen on ‘gangsta’ rap music videos.

"At this stage in their socio-psychological development, adolescents want to be autonomous and independent from parental controls, an act that can be viewed as somewhat defiant. They may also be modeling what they see as the norm. They pattern themselves after their peers and the women they consider to be role models on the videos," Dr. Wingood says. "On the other hand, it may be an attempt to defy the white mainstream popular culture. Since rap music is more ethnocentric, it is more closely associated with their social factors."

Researchers determined the level of exposure to rap music videos based on the number of hours that rap music videos were viewed on an average day multiplied by the number of days in the week that the rap videos were viewed. They also assessed the adolescents’ music viewing characteristics by determining the primary type of rap music video and with whom and where the videos were watched.

Future studies on rap videos should be conducted among different adolescent populations, the researchers suggest. And since potentially important mediating factors such as adolescents’ degree of autonomy and independence, parental education, and influence of peer social networks were not assessed, it is difficult to determine whether the relationship between exposure to rap music videos and adolescents’ health status is causal.

"Additional research should examine whether differences in the amount and type of rap music videos viewed are associated with varying degrees of involvement in adverse health risk behaviors by adolescents," Dr. Wingood says.


The study was supported by a grant from the Center for Mental Health Research on AIDS/National Institute of Mental Health.


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