Menus Subscribe Search
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

September 17 • 6:32 AM

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists’ appetites.


September 17 • 6:00 AM

The Grateful Dig: An Archaeologist Excavates a Tie-Dyed Modern Stereotype

What California’s senior state archaeologist discovered in the ruins of a hippie commune.


September 17 • 4:00 AM

The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

Israeli researchers find the symbolic act of emptying a receptacle can impact our behavior, and not for the better.


September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


September 16 • 10:09 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t a place, but an era of migration. It would have happened even without New York City.


September 16 • 10:00 AM

A Law Professor Walks Into a Creative Writing Workshop

One academic makes the case for learning how to write.



September 16 • 7:23 AM

Does Not Checking Your Buddy’s Facebook Updates Make You a Bad Friend?

An etiquette expert, a social scientist, and an old pal of mine ponder the ever-shifting rules of friendship.



September 16 • 6:12 AM

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn’t have any extra emotional impact.


September 16 • 6:00 AM

What Color Is Your Pygmy Goat?

The fierce battle over genetic purity, writ small. Very small.



September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


September 15 • 12:00 PM

2014: A Pretty Average Election

Don’t get too worked up over this year’s congressional mid-terms.


September 15 • 10:00 AM

Online Harassment of Women Isn’t Just a Gamer Problem

By blaming specific subcultures, we ignore a much larger and more troubling social pathology.


September 15 • 8:00 AM

Atheists Seen as a Threat to Moral Values

New research attempts to pinpoint why non-believers are widely disliked and distrusted.


September 15 • 6:12 AM

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.


September 15 • 6:00 AM

Interview With a Drug Dealer

What happens when the illicit product you’ve made your living off of finally becomes legal?


September 15 • 4:00 AM

A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses

The ability to delay gratification has been held up as the one character trait to rule them all—the key to academic success, financial security, and social well-being. But willpower isn’t the answer. The new, emotional science of self-regulation.



Follow us


Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

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