The Sciences

NCBI ROFL: National anthems and suicide rates.

DiscoblogBy ncbi roflMay 25, 2011 11:00 PM

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"In a sample of 18 European nations, suicide rates were positively associated with the proportion of low notes in the national anthems and, albeit less strongly, with students' ratings of how gloomy and how sad the anthems sounded, supporting a hypothesis proposed by Rihmer." Bonus full text: "For most of the 20th Century, Hungary had the highest suicide rate in the world and, also, among immigrants to the United States, Hungarians had the highest suicide rates (Lester, 1994). Hungary is also known for the “suicide song”—“Gloomy Sunday”—which was written by a Hungarian (Rezso Seress) in 1933 and which was banned from radio stations since it seemed to induce people to commit suicide (Stack, Krysinska, & Lester, 2007–2008). Rihmer (1997) noted that the Hungarian national anthem was very sad and, in an informal study of suicide rates in European nations, declared that higher national suicide rates were associated with more low notes in national anthems. The present study explored this idea further. The national anthems of 18 European nations were played for 30 American students enrolled in a course for statistical methods (6 men, 24 women; M age = 22.5 yr., SD = 4.7), and none recognized any of the anthems. The students were asked to rate each anthem for how gloomy and how sad it was, and median scores for these two dimensions were calculated. In addition, the proportion of low notes (below the five-line staff) was calculated. These scores were cor- related with male and female suicide rates for the year 2000 obtained from the World Health Organization. Male and female suicides rates were weakly associated with the ratings of gloomy (Pearson rs = .30 and .42, respectively, one-tailed ps = .11 and .04), with the ratings of sad (rs = .23 and .40, respectively, ps = .18 and .05), and with the proportion of low notes (r = .63 and .54, respectively, ps = .003 and .01). The proportion of low notes was associated with the ratings of gloomy and sad (rs = .52 and .44, ps = .02 and .04, respectively). Thus, Rihmer’s suggestion was supported by the present analysis. It would be of interest to extend the present study to non-European nations. There are several limitations to this study. First, many factors correlate with and may affect national suicide rates. For example, Lester (2010) reported that the prevalences of blood groups, brain parasites, and Finno-Ugrian genes were correlated with European suicide rates. Second, the ratings of the national anthems might be affected by the nationality of those making the ratings. The majority of the judges were women, and future research should compare the ratings made by men and women. Future research might also examine other types of music in these nations, such as folk tunes and entries for the Eurovision song contests."

Photo: flickr/TheeErin

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