Suicide link to D-I-V-O-R-C-E

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Listening to country music can give you the blues so bad, you may even take your own life. At least so say studies in the United States, which have discovered that when more country is played on the radio, the suicide rate among white males goes up - and the effect is independent of variations in gun ownership, poverty and divorce rate. Instead, it seems to be the "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" rate which determines that final decision.

Though scientists are not yet able to explain the phenomenon, they have discovered other areas in which music affects our behaviour. For instance, fast music in a store makes you shop faster; but in a wine cellar, classical music rather than Top 40 music induces you to buy more expensive bottles of wine.

At the conference yesterday, David Hargreaves and Adrian North of Leicester University revealed that the lyrics of pop songs can have more meaning than parents think. "The degree of pessimistic content in the lyrics of songs in the US pop charts was able to predict economic recession," Dr Hargreaves said. "Gloomy lyrics predicted a downturn in consumer optimism, which in turn predicted the state of the economy."

The lyrics of country songs, Dr Hargreaves noted, "often dwell on several themes - heavy alcohol consumption, loss of a loved one - which are predictive of suicide." But this could mean that potential suicides seek out stations playing country - a genre which offers such uplifting, feelgood titles as "I've Got Tears in My Ears from Lying in Bed Crying over You" - rather than that the songs directly induce the act. This is what the scientists call the "listening situation", and Dr Hargreaves noted that "any attempt to explain people's responses must take account of this".

However, science is as yet unable to predict what might happen if country music were played in a restaurant - though as Dr Hargreaves observed: "No music would be better than the 'wrong' music." Anyone sick of hearing Tammy Wynette would would probably agree.

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