Punk & Heavy Metal Music Makes Listeners Happy and Calm, Not Aggressive, According to New Australian Study

Gary Holt Slayer

Cre­ative Com­mons pho­to by Met­al Chris

In My Day, so much of the music we lis­tened to seemed angri­er, more rau­cous and unruly—more aggres­sive and plain­ly evil—than music today. Not that I have any hard evi­dence for these asser­tions; cus­tom­ar­i­ly none is required for an In My Day rant. But I sub­mit to you this: all that musi­cal rage, in my opin­ion, was a good thing.

And it seems at least in this case, I can sub­stan­ti­ate my opin­ion with sci­ence. This past sum­mer, we report­ed on a study done by researchers at Hum­boldt State, Ohio State, UC River­side, and UT Austin show­ing that kids who lis­tened to heavy met­al in the 80s were “sig­nif­i­cant­ly hap­pi­er in their youth and bet­ter adjust­ed cur­rent­ly than either mid­dle-aged or cur­rent col­lege-age youth com­par­i­son groups.” Despite heat­ed debates in the 80s and 90s over objec­tion­able lyri­cal con­tent in both pop­u­lar and alter­na­tive music (remem­ber the “Cop Killer” con­tro­ver­sy?), researchers con­clud­ed that angry rock did­n’t turn peo­ple into alien­at­ed mani­acs. Instead, they found, “par­tic­i­pa­tion in fringe style cul­tures may enhance iden­ti­ty devel­op­ment in trou­bled youth.”

Now, even more recent research into the effects of angry hard­core punk and met­al on the psy­ches of young peo­ple seems to con­firm these results and fur­ther sug­gest that aggres­sive music has a para­dox­i­cal­ly calm­ing effect. In a study titled “Extreme met­al music and anger pro­cess­ing,” Uni­ver­si­ty of Queens­land psy­chol­o­gists Leah Shar­man and Genevieve Din­gle describe how they sub­ject­ed “39 extreme music lis­ten­ers aged 18–34 years of age” to “anger induc­tion,” dur­ing which time, writes Con­se­quence of Sound, “they talked about such irri­tat­ing things as rela­tion­ships, mon­ey, and work.” Once the test sub­jects were good and stressed, Shar­man and Din­gle had them lis­ten either to a “ran­dom assign­ment” of “extreme music from their own playlist” for ten min­utes or to ten min­utes of silence.

As uni­ver­si­ty pub­li­ca­tion UQ News sum­ma­rizes, “In con­trast to pre­vi­ous stud­ies link­ing loud and chaot­ic music to aggres­sion and delin­quen­cy,” this study “showed lis­ten­ers most­ly became inspired and calmed” by their met­al. “The music helped them explore the full gamut of emo­tion they felt,” says Shar­man, “but also left them feel­ing more active and inspired.” The researchers also pro­vide a brief his­to­ry of what they call “extreme music” and define it in terms of sev­er­al gen­res and sub­gen­res:

Fol­low­ing the rise of punk and heavy met­al, a range of new gen­res and sub­gen­res sur­faced. Hard­core, death met­al, emo­tion­al/e­mo­tion­al-hard­core (emo), and screamo appeared through­out the 1980s, grad­u­al­ly becom­ing more a part of main­stream cul­ture. Each of these gen­res and their sub­gen­res are socio-polit­i­cal­ly charged and, as men­tioned ear­li­er, are char­ac­ter­ized by heavy and pow­er­ful sounds with expres­sive vocals.

“At the fore­front of [the] con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing extreme music,” they write, “is the promi­nence of aggres­sive lyrics and titles.” In addi­tion­al exper­i­ments, Shar­man and Din­gle found that “vio­lent lyrics” did increase “par­tic­i­pants’ state hos­til­i­ty,” but the effect was fleet­ing. Against pre­vail­ing assump­tions that angry-sound­ing, aggres­sive music caus­es or cor­re­lates with depres­sion, vio­lence, self-harm, sub­stance abuse, or sui­cide, the Queens­land researchers found exact­ly the opposite—that “extreme music” alle­vi­at­ed lis­ten­ers’ “angst and aggres­sion,” made them hap­pi­er, calmer, and bet­ter able to cope with the anger-induc­ing stres­sors that sur­round us all.

via Con­se­quence of Sound

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1980s Met­al­head Kids Are All Right: New Study Sug­gests They Became Well-Adjust­ed Adults

New Research Shows How Music Lessons Dur­ing Child­hood Ben­e­fit the Brain for a Life­time

The Neu­ro­science of Drum­ming: Researchers Dis­cov­er the Secrets of Drum­ming & The Human Brain

This is Your Brain on Jazz Impro­vi­sa­tion: The Neu­ro­science of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Jeff says:

    Aside from the glar­ing omis­sions (by the researchers) of Goth(Deathrock),Industrial and noise music which were also promi­nent in the ear­ly 80’s on and scared every par­ent and most oth­er adults out there, good arti­cle.
    I’m also curi­ous if instead of 10 min­utes of silence, they may have tried say 10 min­utes of Win­dam Hill ‘den­tist office jazz’ and see if that was anger induc­ing in any way…

  • Kurt says:

    Yeah, I’d ven­ture almost any­one (clas­si­cal fan, bub­ble gum pop, prog rock­ers) would feel calmer after ten min­utes of *their own* playlist (ver­sus stew­ing in silence for ten min­utes). I’d want to see if heavy met­al had *more* of an effect on men­tal calm­ness than, say, Madon­na.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.