Steve Miller: Is rock really bad for your health?

Thursday 1st December 1994

For years many anti-rock music books and booklets have quoted scientific research to demonstrate rock music endangers the health of those who listen to it. In an extract from his new book The Contemporary Christian Music Debate', American author Steve Miller shows that such so-called scientific research is wrong.

"The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best." - Paul Valery.

Perhaps the most devastating attack on contemporary music has been launched from the field of psychology. My first exposure to this line of reasoning was at a seminar that I attended as a youth. The teacher dogmatically asserted that the rock beat was harmful to both mind and body, backing his contention with the studies of New York psychiatrist John Diamond. These studies figure prominently in anti-rock literature and demand a careful evaluation.

In a nutshell, Dr Diamond exposes subjects to various stimuli and measures their muscular strength to determine the effect of the stimuli on the body. He tests a subject's strength by first having him extend his arm to his side, parallel to the floor. The tester pushes down on the arm, examining the bounce and spring. The subject should be able to resist the pressure.

The next step is to introduce a variable that Diamond claims weakens the body. For example, the tester would put a piece of plastic on top of the subject's head or have him think of an unpleasant situation. "In nearly every case," according to Diamond, "the subject will be unable to resist the pressure."

Diamond believes that many of the stimuli to which we are exposed every day - including certain forms of music - sap our energy and diminish our quality of life. Diamond calls this branch of research "behavioural kinesiology".

Concerning music, he claims that a person's muscle strength is reduced by approximately two-thirds when music containing a certain beat is introduced. The damaging beat, he claims, is one that goes da-da-DA (known in poetry as an anapaestic beat), the opposite of the waltzlike DA-da-da. Though not all contemporary music has this beat, a large proportion of it does. (The old "Rock and Roll" music of the Beatles, for example, did not, but the newer "Rock", such as Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights", does.) Songs containing this beat are now well represented in the Top Ten of any given week. Interestingly enough, Diamond asserts that volume makes no difference - the weakening effect is evident at any level. The style can be hard rock or soft; it doesn't matter. It is the pattern of the beat that is the supposed problem.

Obviously this line of argument, if correct, is devastating to the contemporary Christian music enterprise. Even mellow rock music, which appeals to most adults, cannot evade the critique of Dr Diamond's behavioural kinesiology. According to this theory, as sincere as the musicians and producers may be, contemporary Christian music is harming many people. It matters not how godly the musicians or how theologically accurate the lyrics may be. Neither does it matter whether we are speaking of the harder rock of Petra or the softer music of Sandi Patti; the problem is in the music itself. If Dr Diamond is correct, contemporary Christian music is damaging or even destroying lives. But is he right?

Having carefully evaluated Diamond's methods and conclusions, I would like to forward the following observations, which raise serious questions about the accuracy of his findings.

First, the tests he has used to evaluate contemporary music, if valid, have ramifications beyond music - ramifications most people would find unacceptable. If we accept Dr Diamond's conclusions on rock music, we would seem obligated to apply his unique methodology in other areas.

Diamond asserts that not only does the rock beat cause weakness, but so does reading silently, rubbing one's nose, listening on the phone without alternating ears, weight lifting with both arms at the same time, looking at a frowning face, wearing clothes made of synthetic material (such as polyester, acrylic and nylon) and listening to the note C.

To truly accept Diamond's conclusions, critics of the rock beat would need to restrict much more than their music.

Although this argument in itself is not fatal to Diamond's hypothesis - it is not impossible that these practices have ill effects hitherto unknown to us - these findings do seem odd and beckon us to take a closer look at all of Diamond's theories.

Second, practical experience undercuts Dr Diamond's conclusions. If he were right, people who work out at health spas (which generally play popular music in the background) would be suddenly sapped of approximately two-thirds of their body strength when songs with "the beat" came through the sound system. Thus, a person working out with 180 pounds on the bench press would suddenly drop the weight, being able to lift only 60 pounds. The proposition that certain rock songs dramatically and immediately weaken muscles is invalidated by thousands of weight lifters worldwide every day.

In fact, a record of 35,000 sit-ups was recently set by Timothy Kides, a Glassboro State College sophomore, "with rock music booming from a portable radio." Apparently, his strength was not overly sapped by the music! Thus, observations from our daily experience call Dr Diamond's findings into question.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Rikko in Long island, NY @ 20:58 on Mar 24 2011

I see that there was no scientific measurements or experiments done to disprove Dr. Diamond's observations. It's all talk and suppositions no hard evidence, as usual.

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