From a deleted 700 Club interview archived on the internet archive at http://web.archive.org/web/20000122101421/http://www.cbn.org/the700club/johannamichaelsen.asp

Johanna says you can trace occultic or demonic influences behind most of the school shootings, citing the German group "Ramstein" as being a deadly influence on the shooters at Columbine.

From Wikipedia, Rammstein: Relation to Violent Events

Rammstein were cited in relation to the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999, when photos of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wearing Rammstein T-shirts were revealed.[40][41] Though there was no evidence to correlate the two events, the band felt obliged to issue a statement: "The members of Rammstein express their condolences and sympathy to all affected by the recent tragic events in Denver. They wish to make it clear that they have no lyrical content or political beliefs that could have possibly influenced such behaviour. Additionally, members of Rammstein have children of their own, in whom they continually strive to instill healthy and non-violent values". ... Following the conclusion of the Beslan school hostage crisis in Russia in September 2004, the Russian authorities claimed that the terrorists had "listened to German hard rock group Rammstein on personal stereos during the siege to keep themselves edgy and fired up".[43] The claim has not been independently confirmed.

"Evidence" of offensive phrases found in backwards lyrics in Backwards masking in music probably helps bolster, in the minds of adherents, claims that the power of music can incite madness or homicidal behavior.

Music has allegedly been used as an instrument of torture:

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_in_psychological_operations

Music has been used in psychological operations. The term music torture is sometimes used by critics of the practice of playing loud music incessantly to prisoners or people besieged. The United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have banned the use of loud music in interrogations, but it is still being widely used. The term torture is sometimes used to describe the practice. While it is acknowledged by US interrogation experts that it causes discomfort, it has also been characterized by them as causing no "long term effects."[1]

If music can be torture, could it destabilize some people?

Is there any medical psychiatric evidence that specific kinds of music or lyrics can incite homicidal behavior, either in average people or people having a non-homicidal mental condition?

  • 2
    When music is used in military "psy-ops" it's not that the music itself is so effective, but rather it's the sleep deprivation that results from constant exposure. As such, it doesn't really matter what the music is, just so long as it isn't very melodic or quiet. For example, from a BBC article when the music-as-torture story first broke in 2003: > Uncooperative prisoners are being > exposed for prolonged periods to > tracks by rock group Metallica and > music from children's TV programmes > Sesame Street and Barney in the hope > of making Apr 4, 2011 at 0:20
  • 3
    Reportedly, Charles Manson formulated his ideas of instigating a race riot in the US from the lyrics on The Beatles' white album.
    – oosterwal
    Apr 4, 2011 at 1:37
  • 9
    This is known as a moral panic. Apr 4, 2011 at 10:39
  • 15
    I stopped reading the link at "former medium". Nothing after that sentence can be of any value. Apr 4, 2011 at 18:51
  • 5
    @David: Oh sorry, I forgot about that comment. Yes, all mediums are frauds. Some just defraud even themselves, meaning they are eitehr liars or delusional. If they have something meaningful to say it's purely by mistake. Apr 11, 2011 at 14:45

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: There is a lot of relevant research and the findings are complex. They neither strongly support nor deny the assertion that listening to certain music or watching certain music videos may contribute to violent behavior.


This book chapter from 2003 covers research on "violent music" as it relates to child and adolescent development. It covers a lot of relevant ground, and is worth reading if you really want a full picture of what the research does and doesn't show on this question. Here is an analysis that comes under the heading "Suicides and Shootings". [Emphasis added in all cases.]:

It is a huge leap from the short-term outcomes demonstrated in the research on the effects of popular music to the claims often made in public discussions about music’s role in teenage suicides and recent school shootings. [...] Millions of heavy metal and “gangsta rap” fans spend hours with their chosen music genres and never threaten others or themselves. Moreover, most researchers concerned with the causes of suicide and violence point to a broad array of risk factors unrelated to popular culture (e.g., depression, access to guns, substance abuse, etc.) that seem to be precursors of such drastic acts.

A summary of findings as related more specifically to the effect of violent lyrical content:

There have been few experimental studies of the effects of violent music lyrics on listeners. Some have found no effects of lyric content on aggression-related variables (Ballard & Coates, 1995; St. Lawrence & Joyner, 1991; Wanamaker & Reznikoff, 1989). Some of these studies have had methodological problems with indecipherable lyrics or confounds with general arousal. However, contrary to suggesting that music has no effect, these studies have provided evidence that the effects may be more subtle than we typically expect.

Elsewhere in the chapter:

studies suggest that the main effects of music may be carried by the emotional “sound” of the music rather than by the lyrics. The effects of violent music lyrics do not appear to be nearly as powerful as the effects of other, more visual, violent media.

And, finally, one last bit I thought worth quoting:

Do these various findings support the notion of a “heavy metal syndrome,” that is, of a constellation of related traits with heavy metal as the focal point? Probably not. If there is a “syndrome” at work here, it is a “troubled youth syndrome,” not a heavy metal syndrome. [...] The best way to phrase the relation is to say that white adolescents who are troubled or at risk gravitate strongly toward the style of music that provides the most support for their view of the world and meets their particular needs: namely, heavy metal.


Another survey from 2006 looks at how media portrayals of violence (in general, not in music specifically) impact violent behavior. Quoting from the abstract:

Research shows that fictional television and film violence contribute to both a short-term and a long-term increase in aggression and violence in young viewers. [...] The relationship between media violence and real-world violence and aggression is moderated by the nature of the media content and characteristics of and social influences on the individual exposed to that content.

The survey mentions no research about music in particular, but there are a few studies that address rap and rock music videos:

For men, watching violent videos has been found to cause endorsement of violent behavior in response to conflict (67), increasingly adversarial sexual beliefs (85), and greater acceptance of antisocial behavior in general (51).

Gender violence seems to be a specific focus of a lot of research. Here is a study from 2006 with such a focus, which found music videos could "make an individual feel and react more violently with regards to responses to questions about fictitious scenarios."

This was the only similar experiment I could find that looked at music on its own. One of the findings is perhaps, very vaguely, relevant:

Exposure to heavy-metal rock music, irrespective of lyrical content, increased males’ sex stereotyping and negative attitudes toward women

EDIT: Given the negative reaction this last quote is garnered, I will state clearly here that it describes the result of a small experiment and should not be taken as a well-supported generalization about fans of metal music. The authors of that particular study also found that, "participants’ usual music preference or listening frequency [were not] related to the variables of primary interest in this research."

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