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Dominant emotional response to death metal is “joy and empowerment,” says professor of psychological study into the emotional effects of death metal music on fans
By Anna Grace on 15 Mar 2019
A study carried out by the music lab at Macquarie University, Sydney, has found that death metal music does not inspire violence or desensitise listeners to violent imagery.
The study, entitled ‘Implicit violent imagery processing among fans and non-fans of music with violent themes’, appears in the Royal Society journal Open Science.
“Death metal fans are nice people,” says professor Bill Thompson from Macquarie University. “They’re not going to go out and hurt someone.”
The study finds that music with violent lyrics does not appear to desensitise listeners, unlike evidence suggesting the detrimental effects of violent video games on players.
Psychological experiments probed listeners’ subconscious responses to death metal and pop songs. 32 death metal fans and 48 non-fans listened to songs whilst being shown one violent images and one innocuous image.
Researchers used death metal band Bloodbath’s cannibalism-themed song, ‘Eaten’, for the psychological testing, as well as ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, deemed to be the metal tune’s polar opposite.
The aim was to measure how much participants’ brains noticed violent scenes, and to compare how their sensitivity was affected by the musical accompaniment. The basis of the testing drew on the fact that most people, when faced with one violent and one neutral image, will see the violent image more, as it poses a threat.
“To listen to this music and to transform it into an empowering, beautiful experience – that’s an amazing thing”
“If fans of violent music were desensitised to violence, then they wouldn’t show this same bias,” explains professor Thompson. “But the fans showed the very same bias towards processing these violent images as those who were not fans of this music.”
“The dominant emotional response to this music is joy and empowerment,” adds Thompson. “And I think that to listen to this music and to transform it into an empowering, beautiful experience – that’s an amazing thing.”
However, the professor notes that violence in the media continues to be a “socially significant issue.”
Nick Holmes, lead singer of Bloodbath, told BBC news that the study proves the band’s lyrics are “harmless fun”, adding that their songs are “basically an aural version of an 80s horror film.”
“The majority of death metal fans are intelligent, thoughtful people who just have a passion for the music,” says the band’s lead singer Nick Holmes.
This latest study is part of a decades-long investigation by professor Thompson and his colleagues into the emotional effects of music. Thompson hopes the findings will be a reassurance to “parents or religious groups” concerned about violent music.