How Does Heavy Metal Music Influence Social Psychology?
Heavy metal music is often seen as negative and detrimental to mental health. Those who embraced this genre of music seem unapproachable and negative. Governments worried about the effects of heavy metal music on the social psyche at its emergence. Since the creation of heavy metal music, the genre has largely attracted a population of white males, although it has also caught the attention of people of colour.
The popular influence of metal music in the 1980s did not just catch the concerned attention of governments but also parents. The music attracted teens with its style of blistering guitar solos and soaring vocals with lyrics that are defiant to social norms. But does heavy metal music really have a negative impact on our minds and our society? Does it make heavy metal music fans a group of people incapable of making good choices? For example, do these fans take more drugs, become more inebriated and cheat on their partners? How does metal music really affect social psychology?
A study on how metalheads adjust in their adulthood
Research in the early 1980s on metalheads (heavy metal music fans) found that they were more aggressive and emotionally disturbed compared to non-metal fans. But there was also contradictory research showing metalheads were more intelligent and their poor adjustment in society was caused more by dysfunctional family situations than from listening to metal music. But no one followed up with these fans since the 1980s to find out how they are doing now.
A 2014 study by Humboldt State University (HSU) aimed to find out how heavy metal music fans in the 80s are doing in the 21st century as they reached adulthood. In the research, social media was used as a channel to reach out to metal groups to recruit people from the ages of 35 to 60. They were asked to answer questions about their adolescents during the 1980s. A total of 377 people took part in the study. Participants were asked to pick their favourite music genre from the 1980s.
Those who identified as being fans of Metallica or Guns-N-Roses were placed in the metal music group and asked if they were groupies, paid musicians or only fans. Groupies are those who sleep with rock stars or do anything to get backstage. While those who picked anything but heavy metal music were put into the comparison group.
The participants then answered questionnaires about their personality traits, education, income, marital status, childhood trauma, past and current sexual behaviour and how happy they were as kids and how happy they are now, including some other variables.
Metalheads are actually doing better than expected
As found in the 1980s study, metalheads did suffer negative effects. Groupies suffered serious drug problems and experienced more childhood trauma compared to other groups. Generally, the metal group did experience more adverse childhood experiences and took part in more risky behaviours than the comparison groups. But the metal music fans also reported a stronger bond and a sense of belonging compared to the other groups.
What was unexpected was that the metalheads reported being happier in their youth. They also have lesser regrets about what they did in their youth. The comparison groups were more impulsive and likely to experience manic symptoms such as sleeplessness and hyperactivity. The metal group was less likely to seek psychological counselling for emotional problems.
Governments’ fears about metalheads not amounting to anything in their adulthood were unfounded. The metal group did not differ from the other groups in terms of education, income, marital status or any personality traits measured such as neuroticism.
In open-ended questions, metalheads expressed feeling like they were a part of an important social movement. They felt like they were living in the moment and felt connected to like-minded peers living a hedonistic lifestyle. They loved the lyrics, complexity and intensity of heavy metal music. Additionally, they also feel a sense of freedom and social support as part of the heavy metal music clan.
Metal music’s effects are like any other genres
Like other music genres, those who seek the comfort of their preferred music styles are looking to form an identity and belong to a group. For fans of fringe cultures such as metal music, they are looking for something different from that of their parents that is their own. This is especially true for metalheads in the 1980s who lived in dysfunctional families.
Heavy metal music isn’t all about drugs and sex. It has also been used for political activism. American acts Sacred Reich and Evildead protested against environmental destruction in the 1980s. Despite metal music attracting mostly the white and male population, they have also captured the attention of other races. In Singapore and Malaysia, heavy metal music has been used to address uneven economic development while Israel’s Orphaned Land and Palestine’s Khalas toured together in 2013 to spread the message of co-existence.