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Rap Music Triggers Latent Sexism

- March 3, 2008


In a study (abstract here) that appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Michael Cobb and William Boettcher begin by noting that:

bq. Past research has found that exposure to rap music promotes racial stereotyping. Whites who watch violent rap videos, for example, generate more negative dispositional attributions of anonymous Black males’ behaviors. Critics say rap music is harmful, however, not only because it promotes racial stereotyping, but also because it encourages males’ anger and aggression toward women. The genre of ‘gangsta rap’ in particular is blamed for normalizing misogynistic attitudes by celebrating the physical abuse of women. Consequently, one explosive if unsubstantiated objection to rap is that ‘rap and rap just go together a little too well.’

The question, then, is whether exposure to misogynistic rap music does indeed result increased sexism among its listeners. To find out, Cobb and Boettcher conducted an experiment in which “Kill You,” a misogynistic rap song by Eminem and “Sabotage,” a nonmisogynistic rap song by the Beastie Boys, served as the stimulus materials. Unsurprisingly, the male participants in the experiment had higher sexism scores than did the female participants. Much more interestingly, males recorded consistently higher sexism scores after exposure to both kinds of rap. For females, the results were more complex: their scores increased only for “benevolent” as opposed to “hostile” sexism and only following exposure to the nonmisogynistic rap song.

Cobb and Boettcher interpret these results as “a partial victory for popular critics of misogynistic rap music, [which] …primes more sexist attitudes in males {and] … also primes more defensive attitudes in females. In a press release on the study, Cobb concludes that:

bq. Sexism is imbedded in the culture we live in, and hearing rap music can spontaneously activate pre-existing awareness of sexist beliefs. …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.