Feeling frustrated, frazzled, or just downright miserable after a long and hard day? Listening to music could help lift your spirits, and it turns out that some of the loudest, angriest, head-banging violent songs might be just what you need (if you're into that kind of music already, that is).
Anyone who needs to wind down and relax a little might typically turn to classical, ambient, or jazz as their music genre of choice. As counterintuitive as it might seem, researchers from the University of Queensland School of Psychology found evidence that listening to heavy metal, hardcore, scream, punk, or any other kind of “extreme” music genre can be just as effective in calming people's emotions.
You’d think that these extreme music genres would make a person angrier, or possibly even violent, but the researchers hypothesized that the music can actually help people process their anger rather than inflate it. To help prove it, a study was conducted that involved 39 participants between the ages 18 to 34 who were already fans of extreme music and listened to it regularly.
To kick of the study, all participants were subjected to 16 minutes of “anger induction,” which involved chatting about frustrating situations surrounding their personal lives — career, personal relationships, and finances. Participants’ heart rates were tracked and they were asked to describe their emotions during the process.
Once they were emotionally stirred up enough, some of them were asked to sit in silence for 10 minutes while others were asked listen to their own playlist of extreme music. By the end of the 10-minute period, the researchers found that the participants who listened to extreme music experienced calmer emotional states that were comparable to those who sat in silence for the same period of time.
According to Leah Sharman, a psychology student at the university and co-author of the study, the extreme music helped regulate participants’ sadness and reinforced more positive emotions. They were able to use the music to get fully in touch with all the emotions they felt, and ended up more active and inspired after listening.
Now let’s talk about the big obvious problem with this type of study. Every participant involved in the study was already an avid listener of extreme music. If they already enjoy listening to it, then it would make sense that it might help them manage their emotions. That could be a very different story for people who never listen to extreme genres of music, or dislike it all together — no matter what mood they’re in.
The researchers concluded:
“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.”
In a related experiment, researchers from Brunel University observed how music can be used in the operating room to benefit patients. Out of 73 rigorous, randomized clinical trials, they discovered that music can help ease the pain and anxiety before surgery, during the procedure, and throughout the recovery process.
Surgical patients were allowed to choose the music they wanted to listen to during their participation in the trials. From Spanish guitar to Chinese classical music, there were no limits to music genre choice.
The patients who listened to the music they liked ended up using much mess medication to soothe their pain, and the music helped them drop down the 10-point pain scale by an average of two levels. That’s about the equivalent amount of relief a patient would get from one dose of medication.
Moral of the story? Don’t assume you need to start loading up your iTunes library or other favorite music streaming app with angry-sounding band names you’ve never heard of before next time you’re having a bad day. You can’t force yourself to enjoy something you genuinely don’t like, regardless of what some studies might suggest.
If heavy metal is your thing, and if it helps you manage your emotions, then you should definitely go ahead and listen to it if it does make you feel calmer. Just bear in mind that musical taste is a very personal thing, and you’re probably better off listening to the genres you know you really love to listen to already.
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