Anecdotal observations and even some studies claim that listening to extreme music like heavy metal, punk or hardcore causes anger and expressions of anger, like delinquency or violent behavior. Researchers in Australia, however, found that this isn’t the case. After closely following 39 extreme music listeners aged 18–34 years, the psychologists found that extreme music didn’t make the participants angrier – even after they were purposely made angry. Instead, when they tuned to their favorite extreme music, the participants exhibited a lower heart rate, which is associated with less angry response, showed an increase in positive emotions.
Because of its highly arousing nature (chaotic, loud, heavy, and powerful sounds, with emotional vocals) and the negative, depressing lyrics extreme music often features, some interpret the genre or class of genres as eliciting anger among listeners. In turn, this may activate aggressive behavior. But does the music make you angry or do you listen to the music because you’re angry in the first place? That’s equally plausible, at least, since the arousing nature of extreme music may match the already powerful and engaged internal emotional state of the listener. It’s no easy task, but the researchers at University of Queensland, Australia wanted to find out which of the two hypotheses was true.
The researchers recruited 39 participants, mostly males, who listened to musical genres like classic metal, death metal, progressive metal, punk, power metal, melodic metal, folk metal and more. Some 41% of the participants also played a musical instrument, the average number of years playing instruments or singing being 5 years. Participants were randomly assigned to either the music or control condition before the study began.
Electrodes that recorded their heart rate were attached, and after period of calm during which the participants were asked not to think about anything in particular the first set of Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS) test was performed. The researchers then conducted 16 minute-long anger interview, which was supposed to illicit an anger response from the participants. Yet another PANAS set was performed. Those assigned to the music condition were instructed to select song(s) of their preference from their personal music device and left to themselves for 10 minutes. The control group, on the other hand, was asked to sit silently for 10 minutes. All participants then completed the PANAS items for a third time.
The Australian researchers concluded that symptoms of depression, anxiety, or stress were in the normal range, and there were no differences between participants in the two conditions. The authors conclude in their paper:
“This study found that extreme music fans listen to music when angry to match their anger, and to feel more active and inspired. They also listen to music to regulate sadness and to enhance positive emotions. The results refute the notion that extreme music causes anger but further research is required to replicate these findings in naturalistic social contexts, and to investigate the potential contributions of individual listener variables on this relationship between extreme music listening and anger processing.”
If you’re curious, here’s a playlist compiled with the tracks the participants used in their sessions.