Tobias Greitemeyer, a psychologist at the University of Sussex, has a recent study showing that listening to music with "pro-social" lyrics like "Heal the World" or "Help!" actually makes teenagers more helpful.
His experiments took groups of students and split them at random into those who listened individually either to socially-conscious songs or those with a neutral message, and then used various ways to measure the apparent effect. In one, after the music had stopped, a researcher "accidentally" knocked a cup of pencils from a table and paused briefly before beginning to collect them.On average, those who had heard songs like Michael Jackson's Heal the World responded more quickly and picked up almost five times as many pencils as people in the other group.If you happen to have a subscription to the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin you can read the full paper here. Tobias describes his results thusly:
In four studies, listening to songs with prosocial, relative to neutral, lyrics increased helping behavior. This effect was mediated by interpersonal empathy.This reminds me of those studies that seem to show that people who study economic theories depicting people as self-interested come to view self-interested behavior more favorably as a result, and come to behave more self-interestedly themselves.I'm not going to stop listening to The Pixies and Radiohead, but this study is a nice reminder of the general point that ideas of selflessness-often dismissed by "realists" as naive-actually make selfless acts more likely.