School of Music


Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology (MA)


John Benham

Primary Subject Area

Education, Music; Education, Secondary; Music; Psychology, Behavioral; Psychology, Developmental; Psychology, General; Psychology, Personality; Sociology, General


Behavior, Middle School, Perception, Popular Music, Public School, Students


Developmental Psychology | Education | Ethnomusicology | Music | Music Education | Personality and Social Contexts | Psychology | Social Psychology


The objective of this study is to further the understanding of how junior-high students in the public schools perceive the effects of popular music on their behavior in the classroom. Two primary research questions serve as the foundation for this study. The first question investigates how themes disclosed in interviews of selected public school junior high students help to explain their personal perceptions of how popular music affects their behavior in the academic environment. The second question seeks to determine whether students that listen to a particular genre of popular music have different or similar perceptions of how music affects their behavior than their peers'. The Deposit Middle School, a rural public school in upstate New York, was chosen as the location to explore these research questions. A mixed methods approach was implemented in the research methodology using a two-phase sequential explanatory design. First, a quantitative questionnaire was distributed to each participant that evaluated popular music listening habits as well as their perceptions of how popular music affects both their personal behaviors and their classmates' behaviors during school. Each participant was then subjected to a qualitative interview where they were given an opportunity to more thoroughly explain the beliefs shared on the questionnaire. Only 58% of participants in this study believed that listening to popular music affects their behavior in school. However, 84% of students surveyed believed that their classmates' behaviors were affected when they listened to popular music. Students that listened to popular music for more than three hours per day were more aware of its effect on their behavior during the academic day than those who listened less. The most frequent theme that emerged during the interviews was that listening to popular music affects an individual's personality traits in the classroom. This idea led many participants to disclose that their classmates' behaviors often replicate actions that are portrayed in the songs they listen to. Most of these mirrored behaviors were considered negative or "bad." Other reports indicated that students who listen to popular music become emotionally aligned with its lyrics and overall mood. When students were asked to report their favorite popular music genre, a total of nine styles were reported including pop, country, hip-hop, rap, rock, punk, rhythm-and-blues (R&B), alternative, and grunge. No similarities or differences were detected between how students perceive popular music to affect classroom behavior and the students' most favorite reported genres. Junior-high students in the public schools are in fact exposed to popular music for many hours each day. While not all popular music contains negative or violent themes, many do. When parents, teachers, and administrators become more aware of how the themes in popular music are perceived by students, strategies can then be formulated to aid students in more appropriately consuming music.