Social context and the subjective experience of different types of rock music

Robert L. Thompson, Reed Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The psychological impact and meaning of rock music for adolescents needs to be addressed as a joint function of the type of music and the social context in which it is listened. Young adolescents in this study carried pagers for one week and reported their affect, arousal, and psychological involvement in their activities, including music listening, when signaled at random times. Regression analyses indicate that social context has its greatest impact on soft rock where subjective states are dramatically higher when this music is listened to with friends, as opposed to alone. This suggests that intimate companionship transforms the themes of longing and sadness characteristic of this music into a more positive and binding experience. Subjective states experienced listening to this music are also high when listening occurs in the bedroom, a finding that indicates a consistency between the music's themes and the use of the bedroom as a place for contemplation and reflection. Top 40 and hard rock/heavy metal music are experienced positively across a variety of social contexts, suggesting that their energy and collective message allows teens to experience mastery and power over their environment, even in contexts that are ordinarily lonely and alien. The one exception is when hard rock/heavy metal is listened to in the presence of family members, a situation that creates very negative subjective states. This is undoubtedly due to the dissonance of this music's themes with parental values.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-744
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of youth and adolescence
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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