The Impact of Music Videos Containing Sexual and Violent Content on Gender Stereotypes, Arousal, Aggression, and Acceptance of Rape Myths

Catherine Pfeiffer

Department of Psychology Saint Anselm College
Manchester, NH 03102


    This study examined the impact of music videos containing sexual and/or violent content on gender stereotypes, arousal, aggression, and acceptance of rape myths. It was hypothesized that viewing music videos with sexual and violent content would increase gender stereotypes, arousal, aggression, and acceptance of rape myths. Fifty participants were shown either videos with sexual content, sexual and violent content, or neutral videos having no sexual or violent content. Results indicated the type of video shown had no effect on the dependent variables. It is recommended that this study be repeated using a larger, more diverse sample and an updated instrument as the sample used was small (N=50), homogeneous, and the questionnaire was outdated (1980).


    A total of 50 participants were composed of 8 male and 42 female Caucasian students attending a small, homogeneous, Catholic college located in northern New England. Subjects were mostly freshmen and sophomores but some juniors and seniors did participate. The mean age was 18 and most participants reported that they enjoyed watching music videos. Participants had various levels of previous exposure to music videos both in how many years they had watched MTV/VH1 (M=6.98) and how many hours they viewed music television per month (M=7.56). Subjects’ participation was completely voluntary, although students in introduction to psychology classes did receive class credit.

    The materials for the study consisted of a questionnaire administered prior to the experiment that tested for previous exposure to music videos. Examples of questions on the previous exposure to music videos are: how music television (MTV & VH1) do you typically view in a week, how old were you when you first began to watch music television? The background questionnaire also contained several “distracter” questions asking opinions about various media venues such as commercials and magazines.
    Three types of music videos were shown; sexual, sexual/violent, and neutral. The videos were pre-rated by a panel who chose videos for each category. The panel used specific criteria that was determined by the researcher to rate the videos. The sexual videos contained men or women in revealing clothing and/or sexual behavior (kissing, touching, intercourse etc.). Violent/Sexual videos contained the same as the sexual videos but with aspects of violence (weapons, fights, pushing, wrestling etc.). The neutral videos did not contain any of the qualities that characterize a video as sexual or violent/sexual. There were 3 sets of videos shown with each set containing 3 video segments. The first set of videos was 3 segments of neutral videos, the second set was 3 segments of sexual/violent videos and the third set was 3 segments of sexual videos. The neutral videos used were Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life, Counting Crows: Hanging Around, and Lenny Kravitz: Are You Gonna Go My Way. The sexual/violent videos were Mariah Carey: Heartbreaker, Puff Daddy: Satisfy You, and Janet Jackson: If. The sexual videos used were Lou Bega: Mambo Number 5, Fiona Apple: Criminal, and Lenny Kravitz: American Woman.
    Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire following the viewing of the videos. This questionnaire asked about gender stereotypes, arousal, acceptance of rape myths, and aggression and was composed of items taken from the Rape Myth Acceptance Scale, Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence Scale, the Adversarial Sexual Beliefs Scale (Burt, 1980) as well as questions created by the researcher asking about arousal. These scales contain questions on rape myth acceptance, the acceptance of inter-personal violence, adversarial sexual beliefs, and sex role stereotypes. Questions created by the researcher ask the subject to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 how aroused they are.

    The nature of the study was explained to the participants and they were asked to sign an Informed Consent Form. Participants were told not to talk during the experiment and were then given the questionnaire, which tests for previous exposure to music videos and opinions about various media venues. Participants were randomly assigned to one of 3 groups that viewed one of 3 sets of music videos, each containing 3 video segments of sexual videos, sexual/violent videos, or neutral videos. The experimenter was instructed to leave the room during the showing of the videos and to look in on the subjects periodically to prevent discussion. The participants viewed the videos while the television sound was on mute. After viewing, each subject was asked to fill out a questionnaire testing gender stereotypes, arousal, acceptance of rape myths, and aggression. All subjects underwent debriefing at the end of the study.


    It was found the type of videos shown did not have an effect on the subjects’ gender stereotypes, aggression, and acceptance of rape myths.
    Participants were mostly freshmen (N=25) and sophomores (N=16) with 7 juniors and 2 seniors. Members of the group who viewed the sexual videos (Group 3) had an overall longer viewing history in terms of number of years viewing MTV/VH1 (M=8.19) and hours of MTV/VH1 viewed per month (M=8.69). Group 1 had slightly fewer years of viewing on average (M=6.27) than did Group 2 (M=6.53). Group 2 watched more MTV/VH1 per month (M=7.63) than did Group 1 (M=6.2).
    Only a slight effect of the videos on arousal was shown and those who were shown sexual/violent videos had a higher level of arousal (M=2.32) than those who were shown videos with neutral or sexual content. Enjoyment of music videos did not have an effect on arousal, stereotypes, or aggression. The amount of MTV/VH1 watched per month did not have an effect on any of the dependant variables.

    An ANOVA revealed a main effect on the dependant variable of arousal (F(2,49)= 2.6, p= .082) that was not statistically significant but was approaching significance in the predicted direction. The predicted direction maintained that the groups (2 and 3) who were shown videos with sexual or sexual/violent content respectively would show higher levels of arousal that Group 1 who was shown neutral videos. An ANOVA also showed there to be no significant difference between the experimental groups and the control group in terms of gender stereotypes, aggression, and acceptance of rape myths.

    Having answered the research question, for exploratory purposes, Pearson product moment correlation tests were run among the four dependant variables: arousal, gender stereotypes, aggression, and rape myth acceptance. The correlational analyses were run for each group and within the dependant measures. Significant correlations were found between rape and aggression (r=.309, p<.05) and between years viewed and enjoyment of watching music videos (r=-.294, p<.05). Those subjects which had high rape myth acceptance beliefs (high= a score of 30 or more, low= a score of 20 or less) had higher levels of aggression (M=13.29) than did those with low rape myth beliefs (M=9.57). Those subjects who enjoyed watching music videos had more years of viewing experience (M=7.39) than did those who did not enjoy watching music videos (M=5.75). Significant correlations were found between arousal and gender stereotypes (r=.372, p<.01) and between rape myth acceptance and stereotypes (r=.649, p<.01). Subjects with low arousal scores (1 or 2) had weaker gender stereotypes than did those with high (3 or 4) arousal score (M=20.75). Subjects with high rape scores had more gender stereotypes (M=20.64) than did those with low rape scores (M=17.57).


Related Sites

Web Page For VH1 

Web Page For MTV