Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


bullying-soccer

(PHOTO: TRIX0R/FLICKR)

Background Music Reduces Playground Bullying

• April 24, 2013 • 6:00 AM

(PHOTO: TRIX0R/FLICKR)

New research from Israel suggests a simple way to reduce intimidating behavior among adolescents.

Can music soothe the savage sixth grader? Perhaps, according to a first-of-its-kind study from Israel, which finds that gentle melodies may help deter schoolyard bullying.

“If the findings of this pilot study are replicated and can be generalized,” researchers Naomi Ziv and Einat Dolev write in the journal Children and Schools, “they point to a very simple, inexpensive method of reducing aggressive behavior.”

The three-week experiment featured 56 students—32 boys and 24 girls—at a local elementary school in the north of Israel. All were either 11 or 12 years old. For the first week, the researchers quietly observed the kids during their 20-minute mid-day recess. For three days of the second week, relaxing music from the CD The Spirit of Yoga was played on speakers throughout the recess. The numbers, such as “Horizon of Gold” and “Mother’s Wingspan,” were described as “world music with a strong Indian influence.” And for the third week, the music was turned off, and recess proceeded as before.

Perhaps a booster shot of music, offered on a periodic basis, could keep bullying levels low.

On three consecutive days during each of the three weeks, the kids filled out a questionnaire just after returning from recess. They reported whether they had been bullied, either directly (such as being insulted or hit) or indirectly (such as being excluded from play, or being gossiped about). They also described the degree to which they felt tension, anxiety, or fear on the school playground.

The results were striking. “Occurrences of direct and indirect bullying were both significantly reduced during the three days when calming background music was played at the school,” the researchers report. “Furthermore, the participants reported lower levels of arousal and anxiety during recess, and enjoyed the recess more with background music.”

During the third week, when the music-free recesses resumed, the level of reported bullying went up, but it remained significantly below that of the first week. This suggests the music’s calming effect did not dissipate as soon at it was turned off.

That’s important, since, as the researchers note, people tend to acclimate to their surroundings, and music played every day “could lose its effectiveness after a certain period of time.” Perhaps a booster shot of music, offered on a periodic basis, could keep bullying levels low.

This was a small pilot study with acknowledged limitations. The children involved were aware of its intent, and the level of bullying was determined by their own subjective assessments. Presumably, the next step will be a larger-scale experiment in which the kids are ignorant of the researchers’ thesis, and their behavior is judged by outside experts.

Nevertheless—and given the costs of bullying and the ineffectiveness of so many prevention programs—the researchers call their results “very encouraging,” noting that their results suggest “music may be another tool to be used in certain contexts to create a calmer, more positive atmosphere, and influence children’s behavior and feelings to reduce aggressive behavior.”

A bit of harmony in the background may produce more harmony on the playground.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.