Selling Booze to Teens Via Top 40 Music Lyrics

Marketing Alcohol to Kids and Teens in Song

One of my passions is the ways in which we are influenced without our knowledge. These are referred to as subconscious influences. And it turns out we are far more easily influenced than we realize.

Priming studies have consistently shown that we are influenced by a task as simple as unscrambling four sentences. Given the right word, these priming tasks have been shown to effect short term memory, pace of walking, aggression, degree of politeness, and body posture.

So it was with great interest that I looked at this new study looking at the effects of music lyrics on alcohol consumption in teens in the United Kingdom. As one in five songs in the top ten in the UK reference booze, do these lyrics have any impact on teen drinking? Which raises other critical questions, if behavior is affected by lyrics, what effect are the myriad of songs referencing prescription pill use, marijuana use, illegal drug use having?

Mention of alcohol is so blatant in songs, I’ve wondered if alcohol companies are paying musicians for product mentions in songs. What better way is there to market to the younger generation?!

Several experts argue that recent evidence shows that public health messages on alcohol may be drowning amidst the louder and more ubiquitous messages from some genres within the music industry.

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University found that older children and teens listen to more than two hours of music daily. Researchers in the United States have documented a rise in alcohol and drug references, including mention of specific liquor brands and types (e.g., Patron), in popular music. But until recently, little data was available on comparable UK trends. Hardcastle’s team selected four years for analysis, comparing music charts across four decades. They discovered a significant increase in the number of times alcohol was mentioned.

Top ten songs in the early 1980s contained relatively few references to alcohol, with the number declining further in 1991. Rave culture was popular in this period; a music scene linked more to Ecstasy than alcohol. But  alcohol references returned by 2001, showing up in eight percent of popular hits. This figure continues to rise, more than doubling by 2011, with almost one in five (18.5%) top ten songs featuring alcohol-related lyrics. This pattern is consistent with US trends, although UK charts still have fewer alcohol mentions than their US counterparts.

Alcohol-related song lyrics are associated with hip hop and rap and US artists, with lyrics generally putting a positive spin on alcohol consumption. Drinking is linked to confidence, outgoingness or physical attractiveness, as well as outcomes such as money, fame, and sex. Popular artists sing about the negative effects of alcohol far less frequently.


Positive psychology and teens
Negative Side of Teen Drinking


Lyrics have an impact beyond the US and UK, pointing out that US and British songs often have global appeal. For example, US artist Katy Perry’s 2011 single “Last Friday Night” detailing excessive drinking and risk-taking behavior, achieved a top 10 position not only in the US and the UK, but also in 15 other countries.

How Can I Be happy
Katy Perry – Lyrics Influencing the Youth?

So what impact do these alcohol references have on young people? It is highly likely that we underestimate the true impact of exposure to pro-alcohol messages young people hear, says lead researcher Katherine Hardcastle:

“Public health concerns are already focused on the impacts of alcohol advertising on the drinking behaviours of young people, yet the growing reference to alcohol in popular music could mean that alcohol promoting messages are reaching much larger audiences; regardless of restrictions (e.g. age) on direct advertising.”

Children Exposed to Pro-Alcohol Lyrics May Be Influenced to Drink Earlier

The study concludes that:

“The exposure of young people to alcohol in the media is a major concern given its potential impact on drinking behaviours […] A greater understanding of the impacts of alcohol-related popular music content on young listeners is urgently needed. Health and other professionals should be vigilant for increases in alcohol-related lyrics and work to ensure that popular music does not become a medium for reinforcing and extending cultures of intoxication and alcohol-related harm.”

Given that we listen to our favorite songs hundreds, if not thousands, of times, it seems safe to assume that frequent repetition of pro-alcohol and pro-drug lyrics will normalize such behaviors making them somewhat more likely to occur.

Positive psychology and marijuana
Wiz Khalifa with the Ubiquitous Blunt

In my private practice, I see this frequently with male adolescents who are listening exclusively to rap and hip-hop. While I enjoy several songs of Wiz Khalifa and 2 Chainz, I also know enough to listen to them infrequently. Our emotional mind is trained most effectively via repetition. Listening to pro-marijuana lyrics thousands of times is likely to influence minds which are already open to suggestions.

Keep an open mind!

Dr. John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Expert Consultant to Pixar
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
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Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by SAGE Publications, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:

  1. Katherine A. Hardcastle, Karen Hughes, Olivia Sharples, and Mark A. Bellis. Trends in alcohol portrayal in popular music: A longitudinal analysis of the UK charts. Psychology of Music, September 2013 DOI: 10.1177/0305735613500701

1st time ever – neuroscientists better @ predicting ur behavior than you are! UCLA Study

From UCLA press release on EurekAlert!…

‘Neuroscientists can predict your behavior better than you can

Surprising UCLA brain scanning study has implications for advertising, public health campaigns

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” — John Wanamaker, 19th-century U.S. department store pioneer

In a study with implications for the advertising industry and public health organizations, UCLA neuroscientists have shown they can use brain scanning to predict whether people will use sunscreen during a one-week period even better than the people themselves can.

“There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. “Many people ‘decide’ to do things but then don’t do them.”

The new study by Lieberman and lead author Emily Falk, who earned her doctorate in psychology from UCLA this month, shows that increased activity in a brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex among individuals viewing and listening to public service announcement slides on the importance of using sunscreen strongly indicated that these people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week, even beyond the people’s own expectations.

“From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do,” Lieberman said. “If you just go by what people say they will do, you get fewer than half of the people accurately predicted, and using this brain region, we could do significantly better.”

While most people’s self-reports are not very accurate, they do not realize their self-reports are wrong so often in predicting future behavior,” Falk said. “It is surprising to find out that some technique might be able to predict my own behavior better than I can. Yet the brain seems to reveal something important that we may not even realize.”

The study, the first persuasion study in neuroscience to predict behavior change, appears June 23 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

For the study, Falk, Lieberman and their collaborators sought people who did not use sunscreen every day. The study group consisted of 20 participants, mostly UCLA students, 10 female and 10 male. The participants had their brains scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at UCLA’s Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center as they saw and heard a series of public service announcements. They were also asked about their intentions to use sunscreen over the next week and their attitudes about sunscreen.

The participants were then contacted a week later and asked on how many days during the week they had used sunscreen.

Lieberman and Falk focused on part of the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is located in the front of the brain, between the eyebrows. This brain region is associated with self-reflection — thinking about what we like and do not like and our motivations and desires.

“It is the one region of the prefrontal cortex that we know is disproportionately larger in humans than in other primates,” Lieberman said. “This region is associated with self-awareness and seems to be critical for thinking about yourself and thinking about your preferences and values.”

The researchers developed a model based on 10 people and tested it on the next 10. They shuffled the 20 people in different ways to test the model. There are more than 180,000 ways to divide the 20 people into groups, Falk said.

“We ran a simulation of the 180,000 combinations, developed our model on the first 10 subjects on each of the 180,000 simulations, and tested it on the second 10,” Falk said. “We saw a very reliable relationship, where for the vast majority of the 180,000 ways to divide the group up, this one region of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, does a very good job of predicting sunscreen use in the second group.”

This finding could be relevant to many public health organizations, as well as the advertising industry, Lieberman and Falk said.

“For advertisers, there may be a lot more that is knowable than is known, and this is a data-driven method for knowing more about how to create persuasive messages,” said Lieberman, one of the founders of social cognitive neuroscience.

Neural focus groups

While 19th-century department store pioneer John Wanamaker (quoted at the beginning of this release) advertised effectively for his stores in newspapers, he still said he was wasting half his advertising budget — only he didn’t know which half.

“We’re learning something about which half,” Lieberman said.

While advertising agencies often use focus groups to test commercials and movie trailers, in the future they and public health officials perhaps should add “neural focus groups” to test which messages will be effective while monitoring the brain activity of their subjects.

“A problem with standard focus groups,” Falk said, “is that people are lousy at reporting what they will actually do. We have not had much to supplement that approach, but in the future it may be possible to create what we are calling ‘neural focus groups.’ Instead of talking with people about what they think they will do, a public health or advertising agency can study their brains and learn what they are really likely to do and how an advertisement would be likely to affect millions of other people as well.”

“Given that there are emerging technologies that are relatively portable and approximate some of what fMRI can do at a fraction of the cost, looking to the brain to shape persuasive messages could become a reality,” Lieberman said. “But we’re just at the beginning. This is one of the first papers on anything like this. There will be a series of papers over the next 10 years or more that will tell us what factors are driving neural responses.”

“We hope to build a sophisticated model of persuasion that may incorporate multiple brain regions,” said Falk, who studies the neural basis of persuasion and attitude change. She has been hired by the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor as an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology and a member of the university’s Institute for Social Research, starting in September.

While some people have emphasized reasoning and emotion as key areas on which to base advertising campaigns, a key question may be whether messages and advertisements can be produced that “make people feel, ‘This is about me and is relevant to my preferences and motivations,'” Falk said. “Perhaps effective messages reinforce our values, our self-identity, what motivates us. We will learn much more as we continue this line of research over the years.”

Neuroscientists will learn whether they can predict behavior better and are likely to obtain a more nuanced understanding of the roles played by different parts of brain regions, said Falk, who this March received UCLA’s Charles E. and Sue K. Young Award for outstanding research and teaching. She is interested in how to make more effective health and other public service messages aimed at young adults.

“There is still much we do not know about how to get people to make healthier choices,” Falk said. “We hope to learn much more about what makes messages more or less persuasive.”

Different brain regions may be important for persuading people to tell or e-mail their friends about a health message, product or service; Lieberman and Falk are studying this issue of “creating buzz” as well.

However, the implications of the research go far beyond advertising, Lieberman said.

“There are many applications beyond how you make a good 30-second commercial,” he said, “including how teachers can communicate better so their students won’t tune out or how doctors can convince patients to stick to their instructions. We all use persuasion in some form or another every day.”

Beware of hucksters

Some people are already offering “neuro-marketing,” purporting to help businesses sell their products and help candidates run their advertising campaigns, Lieberman noted. They may, for example, recommend what colors and sounds to use in commercials. Is this effective, or are they claiming expertise they do not possess?

“In general, they are taking simple views of how different parts of the brain work and are saying it is important to turn a particular part of the brain on when advertising, and therefore you should do more of this or that,” Lieberman said. “For instance, they will say you want to activate the amygdala because that is the brain’s emotion center. Typically they are not looking at the relationship between what happens in the brain when someone is exposed to an advertisement and what actually are the outcomes that you care about. For example, do people change their behavior? Does someone spread the message to others? Instead, they are giving generic analysis, and my guess is that the vast majority of the advice they are giving is not accurate.

“To really understand the relationship between the brain’s responses to brands and persuasive materials and desirable outcomes, you actually have to measure the outcomes that are desirable and not just say what should work,” he said. “There are many folks claiming to be neuroscientists who have read a little introductory neuroscience, and that is not enough expertise. It’s almost infinitely more complicated than that.”

Co-authors on the Journal of Neuroscience paper are Elliot Berkman, a UCLA graduate student of psychology in Lieberman’s laboratory who will be an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon this fall; Traci Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota–Minneapolis who was formerly on UCLA’s faculty; and Brittany Harrison, a former UCLA undergraduate student.’

John’s Thoughts…

Okay, so I love this study. This excites the hell out of me. The idea that we are finally at the point of using neuroscientific tools to be able to somewhat accurately predict human behavior is astounding.

However, here is the pitfall with this particular study. The researchers have said several times that humans are notoriously bad at self-report. In other words, we are not very good at telling other people what we will do or what we have done. We know memory is unreliable and varies according to what emotional state we are in at the present moment. We know we are poor predictors of how we will behave in the future. We know we don’t do well at predicting how future events will make us feel.

 And yet, the release says, ‘participants were then contacted a week later and asked on how many days during the week they had used sunscreen.’

So we don’t truly know how frequently people had used sunscreen because their recollections will vary based on how they were feeling at the moment they reported that information.

And I’ve been here before from a researcher’s perspective and it’s a maddening chicken and egg scenario.

The other problem I see coming down the road is the ethical debate. I am absolutely for the development of this technology with the assumption that it will be used for constructive, socially desirable messaging. And that is a BIG assumption. Once the technology is fully developed, anyone can get their hands on it. Once the technology is in the hands of individuals who lack ethics, values and social and emotional awareness, we’ve got a serious problem. Because then the technology will be used to craft powerful, predictive messages that are fueled by nothing more than revenue. That is dangerous.

The next step, in my mind, is to teach more individuals social and emotional awareness so that more are acting towards the greater good, more are joining the advanced human team, more are aware of their top values AND acting in accordance with them. Only when we reach this plateau of human development will such technologies have a chance of fulfilling their idealistic promises (and I’m all for idealism!).

In any case, I’m still excited about the study. I think they’ve done tremendous work and this is the harbinger of a new vista in neuroscience. Congratulations to the team at UCLA!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Award-winning author, founder of Guide To Self

Real Men, Real Emotions, Real Potential

The Next Step is Here – Software To Measure Emotion While Surfing Web

From Science Daily…

New Software to Measure Emotional Reactions to Web

ScienceDaily (June 9, 2010) — While most people have intuitive reactions to Web sites, a group of Canadian scientists is developing software that can actually measure those emotions and more.Aude Dufresne, a professor at the University of Montreal Department Of Communications, led a team of researchers that are designing a new software to evaluate the biological responses of Internet users.Simply put, the new software measures everything in Web users from body heat to eye movements to facial expressions and analyzes how they relate to online activities.

The technology is now being tested at the newly opened Bell User Experience Centre, which is located at the telecom giant’s Nun’s Island campus. Bell will use the University of Montreal technology to investigate how people react to Web sites. Such studies will provide companies with facts on how they can improve online experiences.

“With e-commerce and the multiplication of retail Web sites, it has become crucial for companies to consider the emotions of Web users,” says Professor Dufresne. “Our software is the first designed to measure emotions at conscious and preconscious levels, which will give companies a better sense of the likes and dislikes of Web users.”‘

For full article, click here.

Between the fMRI, neuromarketing and emotional measurement software, we have to be more mindful about our media consumption.


John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Real Emotions for Real Men

Guide To Self, Inc.

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The Urgent Need to Get Positive Psychology In the Workplace

This is an excerpt from a talk I gave last year at a Leadership Summit of 1500 executives and managers. It is critical to begin taking steps to incorporate positive psychology into the workplace to ensure the optimal functioning of your workforce. Parts of the positive psychology puzzle include resiliency, high ratio of positive to negative emotions, realistic optimism, positive communications, the mindful use of emotions so they work for you instead of against you and much more.

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