WHITE! TAIL! HOLY! GRAIL!
So earlier on in my semester here at Pikeville College, I was informed that I needed to design an experiment for my experimental psychology class. I knew I wanted to do something with music, particularly metal, as I’m not too interested in anything else. In doing my research on metal and psychology, there isn’t much that hasn’t already been done. For the most part, as we metal fans have come to expect, metal has no negative effect on people… who listen to metal.
It’s a no brainer; if you play metal for people who listen to country music, they will, more often than not, hate it. Ignoring the level of ignorance some people may have of metal, we all have different opinions of what sounds good and certain aesthetics please us more than others. Some aesthetics rub us the wrong way. If you think this isn’t true, try to listen to a Ke$ha song and not get pissed off.
Metal is very cathartic. It relieves us of strong emotions. Studies have shown time and time again that metal is calming to people who enjoy it. That’s just how it works. Listening to metal is a positive experience to us.
Here is a basic rundown of metal and psychology, via Suite101.
While a number of researchers have associated heavy metal music with depression or anger, these effects do not occur when heavy metal is the listener’s musical preference. A study of more than 1,000 gifted students aged 11-18 found that heavy metal music is used for cathartic release and to dissipate negative emotions, particularly among those with low self-esteem.
Grunge Music Effects
A study of the effects of different types of music found that after listening to grunge music, subjects reported increases in fatigue, tension, sadness and hostility, as well as decreased mental clarity, vigor, relaxation and compassion. However, grunge was likely not the musical preference of these subjects—a study of grunge fans may have produced different results.
Some studies have found that individuals become more hostile, aggressive or angry after listening to heavy metal music, whereas others have found no aggressive response. Some researchers have even found that subjects who were angry to begin with become happier, calmer and more relaxed after listening to heavy metal when it is their preferred musical genre.
Although the suicide rate is higher among rock and heavy metal fans (particularly the latter), a study of students with psychiatric disorders who were also heavy metal fans actually showed improved mood after listening to their music of choice. Other studies of depressed students have found similar results, suggesting that students may use this music to help treat their depression rather than becoming depressed as a result of listening to it.
Some studies have found that adolescents of both genders who listen to heavy metal tend to have lower grades in school, but this is likely due to aspects of personality or environment (such as high stress) rather than any direct effects of the music itself.
Interestingly, college students whose musical preferences are alternative, rock or heavy metal actually obtain higher IQ test scores on average, particularly on questions where abstraction is required. Some studies have also found high intelligence among adolescent heavy metal listeners.
Those who prefer rock or heavy metal music are more inclined to be reckless sensation seekers who take risks. This is a personality type rather than a direct effect of the music—sensation seekers have less reactive nervous systems and so it takes more intense stimuli to generate a sensation of happiness or excitement.
Risk takers are more likely to commit crimes because they are not as anxious about the consequences. This is not caused by the music however; the risk taker prefers more energetic music and more dangerous pastimes as a result of innate personality and physiology.
Studies regarding a link between heavy metal music and drug use have generated mixed results. One study found that teenagers who listened to heavy metal were more inclined to use drugs, though they were not more likely to use them excessively or become addicted. Other researchers have found no link between music preference and drug use or drug-related values. Overall, use of alcohol and/or drugs by parents has the greatest influence on adolescent drug use.
Attitudes Toward Women
A study of undergraduate men found that exposure to sexually violent heavy metal music increased the tendency to stereotype sex roles and hold more negative perceptions of women. However, this was likely the result of the sexually violent content rather than the heavy metal music itself.
So, there you have it. If metal is your preferred musical genre, it does you a hell of a lot of good. Any study that shows a negative response to metal, clearly wasn’t using metal fans. How about we do a study on the affects of country using metal fans? That study would not be scientifically valid.
However, studies have shown that plants and animals react negatively to metal.
Effect on Plants
Dorothy Retallack tested the effects of various types of music on plants. She found that playing classic rock artists such as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Vanilla Fudge caused the plants to grow in an unhealthy way, bend away from the speakers and die young. However, if we assume that plants can have musical preferences, it’s possible that classic rock was not their music of choice.
I recall MythBusters doing something similar with plants. It’s sad, but true. Plants hate metal.
One particular study of interest I found involves lab mice, and metal’s effect on their learning.
Effect on Animals
A student named David Merrill subjected mice to the music of a heavy metal band called Anthrax 24-hours a day to discover how it would affect their ability to learn new things, but instead of completing Merrill’s maze, the heavy metal mice all killed one another.
In a subsequent experiment in which the mice listened to heavy metal music for 10 hours each day, they did not become homicidal, but they did grow worse at solving the maze than they had been when they first encountered it. But research indicates that reactions to music are shaped by whether or not it is the genre of choice, and it’s highly unlikely that if the mice had a musical preference at all, it would have been Anthrax.
Well I think I speak for everyone when I say: No Shit.
I highly doubt that even Anthrax fans would be able to listen to Anthrax 24-hours a day for three weeks straight. Could anyone listen to any one thing for 24 hours a day for that amount of time and not see a negative effect on behavior? It’s questionable. Even 10 hours of listening to one artist for three weeks would make anyone sick and tired of it.
But can rats even tell if they’ve been listening to music at all, let alone the same artist and songs for that long, or is it just background noise? I don’t know. But when I was thinking about it, I realized that I know what I wanted to do for my psychology class.
Metal is such a wide and varied genre, that you can’t write off an animal’s learning behavior because of an experiment using just one artist. Surely, mice who listen to Cynic will see an improvement over mice who listen to Cannibal Corpse?
Here is a rough draft of my Methods section, verbatim:
The participants of the current study are one hundred white lab mice.
Mice are kept in cages, each cage big enough to comfortably hold ten mice. Speakers (stereo separated left and right) are placed at each end of the cage. A maze will be built for the mice to navigate.
The experiment is an independent groups one-factor design, with the independent variable being the subgenre of metal in which the rats are subjected to, with ten different levels; thrash metal, classic/traditional metal, death metal, grindcore, mathcore/hardcore, metalcore, progressive/experimental, power metal, classical music, and no music as a control. The dependent variable is the time it takes for the mice to finish a maze.
The mice are randomly divided into ten groups, eight genres of metal (thrash, classic/traditional, death, grindcore, power metal, mathcore, metalcore, progressive) a group for classical, and a control group. The mice run through a maze and their times are recorded. The mice are put in their cages with their groups and are played a mixed playlist of songs from their particular genres for ten hours straight. The mice then run the maze again and their times are recorded. This process is repeated three times a week for three weeks. The average of each group is taken and compared.
I know this is an iffy experiment right now, but it’s a place to start. Keep in mind that this is only a rough draft. I’m looking for suggestions. Do I do a huge mix of subgenres or specific artist catalogs? What subgenres do I include? What improvements can be made? I’d love to hear what you can come up with. If I use your idea, I’ll credit you in my report.
Maybe if I can hammer out enough details, I’ll actually be able to do this and see what happens. Who knows? It’d be interesting at least.