The next time you need to kick back after a long day at the office, maybe try listening to The Stooges’ skittering 1970 album Fun House. A new study in Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that “extreme music” such as punk and heavy metal may help listeners decompress, and contrary to some people’s idea that the music may stir anger, it “may represent a healthy way of processing anger.”
The study examined 39 participants ages 18 to 34 who listened to extreme music. Researchers from the University of Queensland, Australia induced anger in participants through a brief “anger interview,” and then assigned some of them to listen to 10 minutes of high-paced tunes from their own collections; others were instructed to sit in silence for 10 minutes following the anger interview. To measure participants’ responses while they were listening to the music, researchers measured their heart rates and regulated emotional shifts demonstrated by the Positive and Negative Affect Scale.
Researchers found that rates of irritability, stress and hostility increased during the induced anger period, and then significantly decreased after the participants had listened to the extreme music or dealt with the silence. Even though the music was fast-paced, heart rates weren’t shown to increase further during the listening period than they reached during the anger induction. Participants listening to the likes of the Sex Pistols and Slayer not only emitted positive emotions, but were found to be as relaxed as those who had been sitting in silence.
Up to now, little research has been done to chart physiological responses to chaotic forms of music such as punk, emo and metal. Extreme music has historically been conflated with aggression and violent behaviors, as many of the songs’ lyrics orbit themes of anxiety, death and depression. Yet researchers speculate that it’s possible listeners choose extreme music not so much as a way to exert anger but to allow themselves to process these emotional states in a productive way.
The results indicate that people who listen to punk, metal, emo and screamo use music as a way to both regulate feelings of anxiety and anger and to spur imagination and inspiration. The responses are similar to those found in past studies of people listening to melancholic music as a way to boost their moods.