Songs About Mothers: An Evolutionary Exploration of Representations of Mothers in Music

Melanie MacEacheron, Maryanne L. Fisher, Caroline Luszawski, Haylee MacCallum, Ashley Tiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The importance of mothers is inarguable from an evolutionary perspective, given that they bear children and are critical to child survival. However, precisely how mothers are represented in popular culture remains unknown. Understanding the ways mothers are conceptualized in music may provide insight into how individuals feel about this life-sustaining caregiver, given this bond is directly tied to infant survival and subsequent fitness. Here we examine all 2018-released, English-language albums in a public repository, with titles containing “mother” (or synonyms). Song lyrics also containing mother from these albums, were also assessed, to ensure they actually included content regarding mothers or motherhood. These songs were then evaluated for positive, negative, or neutral valence, and for their primary theme concerning mothers or motherhood. All assessments were performed by three coders blind to the hypothesis. Consistent with our hypothesis, most songs were positively valenced, reflecting the importance of a strong bond for promoting mother and child fitness. Further, all songs were rated for valence and themes by Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software. According to LIWC, songs contained more positive than negative emotion words on average, and most songs had more positive than negative words. The coders reported that the most common theme was “mother as exemplary/ beloved” (28%). The most common LIWC-identified theme was “social.” Possible evolutionary explanations are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Emotional valence
  • Liwc
  • Mothers
  • Songs
  • Thematic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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