Heavy metal music and punk are genres that typically divide opinions. It is very common that parents worry about the influence of this aggressive sounding music on their children’s behavior, mood and even development. There is a fear that constant exposure to high-energy, “aggressive” music might induce feelings of anger, aggression and alter mood towards negative states, not to mention disrupt concentration. A recent study which has been abundantly cited on social media claims that this fear may be unfounded.
In the study, researchers investigated the effects of listening to what they termed “extreme metal music” (like this) on anger processing. They were interested in whether people report listening to extreme metal music to fully experience their feelings of anger and whether listening to angry music actually increases this feeling and influences physiological measures of anger such as heart rate. The researchers expected two possible outcomes: 1) listening to extreme metal music increases subjective feelings of anger and the associated physiological arousal, but does not lead to anger processing per se. That is, it does not lead the listener to fully experience their anger and to calm themselves down when feeling angry; 2) listening to extreme metal music either does not increase feelings of anger and arousal, or the increase in self-reported and physiological measures of anger are associated with a change to more relaxed or positive emotions.
The participants were 39 (72% male) individuals who enjoyed extreme music. In the experiment, participants rated their mood before and after an anger-inducing interview with the experimenter. Half of the participants were then asked to listen to self-selected extreme music after the interview and half to sit in silence before completing the third and final mood rating. The anger interview entailed the participants recalling and describing a real life event that had angered them. In addition to the mood ratings, heart rate was also measured during the experiment as an index of physiological arousal.
Interestingly, while sitting in silence decreased heart rate, listening to extreme music stabilized and maintained heart rate readings at the level experienced after the anger interview. This suggests that extreme music is able to match the level of emotional and physiological arousal experienced by the individual. Further, only extreme music listening increased self-reported positive valence, i.e. ratings of active, motivated and inspired feelings. The researchers argue that extreme music listening is used to match feelings and the arousal state of for example anger thereby enabling anger processing and management of negative emotions.
Musical tastes vary. Favorite music, despite its objective acoustic features, is pleasurable and because of individual preference exerts positive effects on for example mood. Metal music may objectively sound aggressive, but the effects of these features on mood always depend on who is listening. This is one of the most wonderful things about music – it is very personal, the effects depend on who you are, what you have been exposed to and the context in which you choose to listen. In future studies, it will be interesting to examine if extreme music enables emotion matching and anger processing even in individuals that do not prefer these genres.
By Marko Ahtisaari and Ketki Karanam
Sharman, L., & Dingle, G. A. (2015). Extreme Metal Music and Anger Processing. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 9. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2015.00272