Listening to aggressive music doesn’t just psych us up, it can help calm us down, as well.
image via (cc) flickr user _flood_
It’s something most metal heads have known for years, but new research out of the University of Queensland, Australia, suggests that loud, aggressive music can actually have a calming effect on people experiencing bouts of anger or sadness (although the same might not be said about anyone else within earshot). The study’s conclusions fly in the face of those who would automatically link aggressive music to subsequently aggressive behavior, suggesting instead that what we might choose to listen to—and why—may, in fact, be a much more textured neurological question.
In “Extreme metal music and anger processing,” published this spring in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researcher Dr. Genevieve Dingle and UQ School of Psychology student Leah Sharman describe how so-called “extreme music” (the study names punk, metal, death metal, emo, and screamo, as just some examples) was shown to help positively regulate the emotions of test subjects in the midst of feeling particularly angry or upset. Explains Sharman in a statement: “The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired.”
image via (cc) flickr user jugonatural
To reach their conclusion, Sharman and Dingle had 39 test subjects—two-thirds of whom were Australian, the others hailing from around the world—undergo a 16 minute “anger induction” session, during which “participants were presented with a list of topics to help with prompting their recall of angering scenarios ... such as ‘partner/spouse’, ‘work/work colleagues,’ and ‘finances’.” Researchers captured the participants’ “angry” heart-rates to use as a baseline against which the next phase of the study would be measured. The subjects were then split into two groups to be monitored, one of which was asked to sit in silence for 10 minutes, the other was told to listen to music, having already been asked to bring their own media-playing devices to ensure they would select the same songs they would have chosen if angry outside the confines of the experiment.
What Sharman and Dingle found was that half the music chosen had angry or aggressive themes, while the rest had sad or isolationist subject matter. What’s more, participants who listened to metal music were as relaxed as those who’d been asked to sit in silence. In fact, per Sharmon: “the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration [subjects] felt.” Ultimately, the researchers conclude:
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.
They caution, however, that further studies are likely needed to explore if and how this observed result manifests outside the context of a contained experiment. Still, for those who have always argued that the louder, faster, and rawer the music is, the better they ultimately feel, it seems that science has your back.