An uncommon link has been established between rap music and sexism by a study from North Carolina State University.
The study suggests that rap music introduces college students to sexism, but it does not necessarily cause them to become sexist.
Although many critics claim that rap music causes sexist beliefs, the study's authors say that the connection they have found between rap and sexism is unlikely to be a direct cause-and-effect.
"It's like hearing the word 'chocolate' and suddenly having a craving for a candy bar. Sexism is imbedded in the culture we live in, and hearing rap music can spontaneously activate pre-existing awareness of sexist beliefs," says Dr. Michael Cobb, assistant professor of political science, who conducted the study along with Dr. Bill Boettcher, associate professor of political science.
"We feel it's unlikely that hearing lyrics in a song creates attitudes that did not previously exist. Instead, rap music, fairly or unfairly, has become associated with misogyny, and even minimal exposure to it can automatically activate these mental associations and increase their application, at least temporarily," the researcher adds.
With a view to measuring the association between rap and sexism, the researchers randomly assigned students to one of three experimental conditionsone wherein the students would not listen to any music, second wherein they would hear non-sexist rap music (Sabotage by the Beastie Boys), and the last one involving a rap song with explicitly sexist language (Kill You by Eminem).
Throughout the study, the students were unaware of its purpose.
The researchers found that male students were more sexist across all three conditions. Surprisingly, however, they found that sexist attitudes among respondents also increased after exposure to rap that contained no sexist lyrics.
"Rap music may be associated with sexist attitudes and beliefs, regardless of the actual lyrical content. So non-sexist rap can now have sexist implications. This gets back to our hypothesis that we don't think rap music causes sexism, because how can rap that contains non-sexist lyrics cause someone to become sexist?" Cobb says.
"The key to understanding why women rejected sexism only after listening to Eminem is motivated self-awareness. In the absence of explicitly sexist language, the negative associations with rap music are still being primed. In this case, however, the receiver is unaware that this process is taking place and therefore makes no attempt to inhibit their reactions. When women listened to Eminem, however, the blatant misogyny is startling to them and it triggers a more careful interpretation and rejection of the premises in the song. Males, who were not the targets of Eminem's ire in the song, are not as motivated to recognize the mechanisms at work," the researcher adds.
Cobb says that the findings that listeners to both kinds of rap music had higher levels of sexist attitudes than those in the control group is a cause for concern, but adds that more researcher is required to determine the relationship between the origins of music and the expressed attitudes.
"Priming latent sexism is not the same thing as causing it. At worst, we could conclude that rap music might exacerbate pre-existing tendencies, but so too can other genres of music and varied forms of entertainment. There is not much evidence in our study to support an argument in favor of censorship," Cobb says.
The study's findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.