Heavy metal music is often touted as frenetic, fast-paced, and irascible music, with modern media eschewing it from the mainstream in favour of pop and rock genres. However, with metal music receiving a bad reputation for being ‘violent’ and nothing more than ‘noise’, the recent research into the genre has revealed some new and potentially intriguing benefits of listening to the genre of music.
Research conducted by the University of Auckland in Australia has found that listening to ‘extreme’ genres and forms of music – notably heavy metal music – can actually help comfort and emotionally buoy and support people who are feeling emotionally distressed or angry. The study looked into 39 individuals whose regular music tastes contained heavy metal, screamo, punk rock or hardcore musical genres, and aimed to examine their stress levels with relation to being exposed to the music.
The individuals within the experiment were initiated by taking part in an ‘anger exam’, a 16-part questionnaire that touched upon personal issues and which was designed to make the individuals experience temporary feelings of anger and upset. The participants were then invited to either listen to the extreme music or sit in silence for ten minutes.
“Results showed levels of hostility, irritability, and stress decreased after music was introduced and the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration they felt,” Leah Sharman, an honors student at the University of Queensland and co-author of the research, stated.
The exposure to the music had a surprising effect upon those who chose to listen to the music following the questionnaire – it actually helped calm them down as quickly as sitting in silence did, and while both fans and non-fans of the particular musical genre found their psychological arousal levels heightened, both groups (fans of the genre and non-fans) experienced the heightened levels as a non-angry emotion. In short, they experienced a heightened mental arousal, but listening to the music which contained violent and aggressive overtones and lyrics, did not stimulate that arousal into anger, and there was no aggression inherently in the responses to the music.
“It was interesting that half of the chosen songs contained themes of anger or aggression, with the remainder containing themes like — though not limited to — isolation and sadness,” Sharman commented. “Yet participants reported they used music to enhance their happiness, immerse themselves in feelings of love, and enhance their well-being. All of the responses indicated that extreme music listeners appear to use their choice of music for positive self-regulatory purpose.”
The extreme music then, it seems, acts as an emotional conduit, allowing the listeners to channel their emotions into a positive state of mind, absorbing the impact of any distressing emotion by validating it, and allowing the listener to regulate their own emotions into a positive baseline.
The study seems to buck the trend of blaming aggressive musical genres for aggressive behaviours – in fact, while research over the years has long since linked aggressive genres of music for violent behaviours, due to their links to high-sensation-seeking behaviours and personalities, more recent developing research has been indicating that connection to musical preference influences the music that people find stimulating, relaxing, or soothing.
Psychological research has long since intimated that large swathes of music correlate to musical behaviours, and while this can be widely regarded as largely true, it cannot stand for subjective taste and preference. If your preference is for rock music, then listening to classical music might not relax you at all, and may frustrate you, despite classical music’s longstanding opinion of being soothing and relaxing.
Sharman and Dingle’s research is an intriguing look into the way music affects our mood responses and behaviours, and while this avenue continues to develop, as often as our relationship to music changes and develops also, it is somewhat of a comfort to know that there is nothing wrong with listening to any of our own personal music preferences. Heavy metal might not be your cup of tea, but at least for some people it’s a relaxing genre which can help relax them and make them happy. Who can say anything wrong with that?