‘Strangers by day, lovers by night’, Stevie Wonder and his Part-Time Lover carried out their illicit tryst in his song ‘knowing it’s so wrong, but feeling so right.’
But Stevie may wish he had sung more contrite lyrics if Mrs Wonder finds out — as songs celebrating cheating make women less forgiving of infidelity, US experts said.
The researchers played 744 volunteers songs about unfaithfulness, some which highlighted its pleasures while the others focussed on the drawbacks.
The team said their findings surprised them, as they had expected songs about the benefits of cheating to help normalise infidelity and make it seem more trivial.
Instead, women became less tolerant. Lyrics about the negative effects of cheating on the unfaithful, meanwhile, made women more likely to stick with their man.
‘Strangers by day, lovers by night’, Stevie Wonder and his Part-Time Lover carried out their illicit tryst ‘knowing it’s so wrong, but feeling so right.’ But Stevie may wish he had penned more contrite lyrics if Mrs Wonder finds out — as songs celebrating cheating make women less forgiving of infidelity, US experts said
Music is not the only form of popular media that impact our relationships.
A 2002 University of Arizona study, for example, found that watching rom-coms and soap operas led to ‘idealistic expectations about marriage’.
Meanwhile, rom-com fans are also more likely to believe in pre-destined soul mates, a paper by psychologists from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University concluded after analysing the impact of 40 romantic comedies.
According to communications researchers Cassandra Alexopoulos of the University of Massachusetts and Laramie Taylor of the University of California, Davis, the way songs can affect our behaviour and feelings can be explained by ‘script theory’.
‘As we gain personal experience and observe others’ experiences with relationships, we develop cognitive scripts for certain relational behaviours,’ Professor Alexopoulos told the Times.
These mental scripts are consulted later on when we need to know how to respond or react to new situations, she explained.
‘In essence, scripts function sort of like movie scripts. They tell us how to behave and respond to social situations,’ Professor Alexopoulos added.
In their study, the researchers recruited a total of 744 students from the UK and the US — who they divided into two groups.
Participants in the first group were played a song whose lyrics expressed positive sentiments about infidelity, with women given ‘If You Leave’ by Destiny’s Child and men ‘Cannot Let You Go’ by Fabolous.
The other group, meanwhile, listened to a song that was negative towards cheating, with the men played ‘Confessions’ by Usher and the women Rihanna’s ‘Unfaithful’.
The volunteers were each asked three irrelevant questions — intended to obscure the purpose of the study — and listened to a so-called ‘distractor’ song whose lyrics included no romantic or sexual content at all before the questions were repeated.
Only after this did the team ask questions about infidelity, covering such areas as how likely they would be to cheat on their partners, how justified they would feel in doing so for various reasons and how tolerant of being cheated on they would be.
According to the duo, the finding that women are more tolerant of infidelity after hearing lyrics about cheaters feeling guilt and sadness could be explained by the song providing a cognitive script which helps support greater forgiveness.
‘Perhaps when these media narratives depict the cheater being punished in some way, people feel less of a need to inflict the punishment themselves,’ Professor Alexopoulos told the Times.
The team said their findings surprised them, as they had expected songs about the benefits of cheating to help normalise infidelity and make it seem more trivial. Pictured, the Destiny’s Child trio, whose song ‘If You Leave’ appears to celebrate an infidelity
‘Perhaps when these media narratives depict the cheater being punished in some way, people feel less of a need to inflict the punishment themselves,’ Professor Alexopoulos told the Times. Pictured: Rhianna, who signs about the downsides of infidelity in her song ‘Unfaithful’
Unlike with the women in the study, the men’s reported tolerance towards infidelity did not appear to be influenced by the songs that they listened to.
‘It could be that male participants didn’t pay attention to the lyrics to the same extent that women did,’ Professor Alexopoulos told the Times.
In fact, previous research has concluded that men tend to only draw meaning from either their reading of the song’s lyrics or their enjoyment of the music’s structure — unlike women, who tend to take in both.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media.
The researchers played 744 volunteers songs about unfaithfulness, some which highlighted its pleasures (like ‘Cannot Let You Go’ by Fabolous, left) while the others focussed on the drawbacks of cheating (e.g. ‘Confessions’ by Usher, right)
TWO-TIMING TUNES CHEAT SHEET
Stevie Wonder’s 1985 US chart topping hit ‘Part-Time Lover’ — which reached No. 3 in the UK singles market after a performance on Top of the Pops — told the story of man who took pleasure in cheating on his wife with a mistress.
Call up, ring once, hang up the phone
To let me know you made it home
Don’t want nothing to be wrong with part-time lover
If she’s with me I’ll blink the lights
To let you know tonight’s the night
For me and you my part-time lover
At the song’s end, however, it is revealed that what goes around comes around — with the wife having taken her own ‘part-time lover’ as well.
In their study, Professors Alexopoulos and Taylor chose more contemporary hits to explore how songs about infidelity can impact the feelings of listeners.
‘If You Leave’, by Destiny’s Child
Which includes the chorus:
If you leave her
I’ll leave him
We’ll pack our bags
Don’t say a word
Let’s go far away
To another place
Let’s hideaway (we’re gonna hideaway)
Oh, just you and me
‘Cannot Let You Go’, by Fabolous
Which similarly celebrates cheating:
She’s my pinch hitta
When the startin’ lineup ain’t playin’ right
I come off the bench with her
It might sound like im gassin’ ya
But it took time to get from the back seat to the passenger
We been creepin’ and sneakin’
Just to keep it from leakin’
We so deep in our freakin’
That we don’t sleep on the weekend
On the ‘negative about infidelity’ side, the researchers played:
‘Unfaithful’, by Rihanna
‘Cause I know that he knows I’m unfaithful
And it kills him inside
To know that I am happy with some other guy
I can see him dying
I don’t wanna do this anymore
I don’t wanna be the reason why
‘Confessions’, by Usher
The chorus of which features the lyrics:
I got a chick on the side with a crib and a ride
I’ve been telling you so many lies ain’t nothing good it’s all bad
And I just wanna confess ’cause it’s been going on so long
Girl I’ve been doing you so wrong and I want you to know that