In contrast to the popularly held view that extreme music like heavy metal is responsible for causing feelings of anger, depression or isolation, it may in fact be capable of combating these very sorts of negative emotions, according to a new study published this week.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have found that when volunteers were exposed to extreme music genres including heavy metal, emo, hardcore, punk, and screamo, they actually experienced a range of positive feelings, such as calmness, happiness or being inspired. (It's worth noting that the participants in the testing were fans of these genres already – if not, your individual results may vary!)
The study, conducted by honours student Leah Sharman and psychologist Genevieve Dingle, took 39 regular listeners of extreme music aged between 18 and 34 years and subjected them to an anger induction, where for a period of 16 minutes they were prompted to recall unhappy personal experiences that made them feel angry or stressed, involving their partners, employment or finances.
After the anger induction, participants were then monitored during a 10-minute window in which they either listened to 10 minutes' worth of extreme music or were required to sit in silence for the same amount of time.
The researchers found that, rather than amplifying the negative emotions of anger or stress, those who listened to 10 minutes of head-banging tunes actually felt the better for it.
According to the research, published this month in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, "The findings indicate that extreme music did not make angry participants angrier; rather, it appeared to match their physiological arousal and result in an increase in positive emotions. Listening to extreme music may represent a healthy way of processing anger for these listeners."
The researchers contend that we've had it the wrong way around when it comes to assumptions about heavy music and the emotional state of the listener. Their findings suggest that people don't listen to hardcore, thrash and punk and become angry as a result; rather, listeners may choose music forms that match their current level of stress or agitation and use the energy and rhythm of the recordings to help process how they feel.
"We found the music regulated sadness and enhanced positive emotions," Sharman said in a press release. "When experiencing anger, extreme music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger. The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired. 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."
What's remarkable about the results is how extreme music, which has a reputation for dwelling in some pretty dark subject matter, can be so uplifting for those who like to listen to it - findings which may have even shocked the researchers.
"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 said.
"Yet participants reported they used music to enhance their happiness, immerse themselves in feelings of love and enhance their well-being."