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The Music to Soothe the Savage Beast May Be Punk and Metal

Jerry_Only_live_with_the_Misifts,_Sala_Copernico,_Madrid,_2008-04-23_(3)
Jerry Only of the Misfits (via Wikimedia Commons)

A few years ago, in Sweden, a self-proclaimed “heavy metal addict” was awarded state disability benefits after having his obsession with the band Slayer classified as a handicap. It’s one of the weirder examples of the stigma attached to metal and other “extreme” music genres. Bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath have often been blamed for heinous acts of violence committed by listeners, reinforcing a widely held assumption that the “devil’s music” exacerbates, if not outright triggers, anger and aggression.

But when researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia recently conducted a study intended to prove the hypothesis that “extreme music causes anger,” their results wound up supporting an opposing theory: That “extreme music matches and helps to process anger.” In other words, listening to death metal, hardcore, punk, and other loud subgenres might actually calm you down instead of revving you up for your next satanic ritual sacrifice.

The study, called “Extreme Metal Music and Anger Processing,” published in the Frontiers of Neuroscienceexplored the effects of heavy metal, punk, emo, hardcore, and screamo on 39 regular “extreme music” listeners between the ages of 18 and 34. First, Dr. Genevieve Dingle and Leah Sharman had the subjects undergo a 16-minute “anger induction,” having them talk about things that pissed them off — mostly problems related to relationships, money, and work. After the subjects were sufficiently angered, the researchers had half the participants listen to 10 minutes of music they selected from their “extreme” playlists, while the other half sat in silence. Both groups then reported on their feelings.

To their surprise, researchers found the participants who listened to heavy music were just as relaxed as those who sat stewing in silence.

“The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired,” reads the study. “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.”

“We found the music regulated sadness and enhanced positive emotions,” Sharman told University of Queensland News. “When experiencing anger, extreme-music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger.”

“A secondary aim for the study was to see what music angry participants would select from their playlist,” Sharman said. “It was interesting that half of the chosen songs contained themes of anger or aggression, with the remainder containing themes such as — though not limited to — isolation and sadness. Yet participants reported they used music to enhance their happiness, immerse themselves in feelings of love and enhance their wellbeing.”

The study doesn’t reveal why extreme music has a calming effect on listeners. Previous research has suggested metal listeners aren’t so much full of rage as they are full of depression and anxiety, further suggesting there’s a kind of catharsis found in hearing one’s difficult emotions expressed in a piece of music. In a larger context, the study raises questions about the potentially therapeutic effects of dark or violently-themed visual art for both viewers and creators, especially in light of other studies demonstrating how art makes people healthier and happier.

h/t Open Culture

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