Report: Death Metal Doesn’t Make Listeners Violent, It Makes Them Happy
"[Death metal] fans are nice people," Professor Bill Thompson said, illustrating his conclusion that the extreme metal subgenre doesn't make its listeners violent, but joyful, rather. "They're not going to go out and hurt someone."
It's latest verdict from the instructor's music lab at Australia's Macquarie University, where Thompson and his cohorts have engaged in a decades-long investigation into the emotional affects of music, the BBC reports.
To that end, the new findings revealed that death metal fans weren't exactly "desensitized" to illustrations of violence, as some may presume. In fact, the professor likens an average death metal fan's pleasure in violent song portrayals to many listeners' satisfaction in tunes that elicit unhappiness.
"Many people enjoy sad music, and that's a bit of a paradox," he said. "Why would we want to make ourselves sad? The same can be said of music with aggressive or violent themes. For us, it's a psychological paradox — so [as scientists] we're curious, and at the same time we recognize that violence in the media is a socially significant issue."
How did Thompson and his team determine that death metal brings joy, not violence? They recruited 32 fans and 48 non-fans to listen to death metal or pop, all while looking at some gruesome images as each genre's fare played out.
Hearing either Bloodbath's cannibalism-themed "Eaten" or Pharrell Williams' saccharine "Happy," a participant was shown an image to each eye — one a violent scene, the other photo nonthreatening — to study their reaction.
"It's called binocular rivalry," explained lead researcher Dr. Yanan Sun. At its core, such a test demonstrates the fact that, when presented with the two incongruous images, viewers tend to see the violent image more.
The death metal listeners didn't tune out the violent pictures, either. They showed the same bias toward the images as the non-fans, leading Sun, Thompson and their colleagues to sing their tune about death metal.
"If fans of violent music were desensitized to violence, which is what a lot of parent groups, religious groups and censorship boards are worried about, then they wouldn't show this same bias," they shared. "But the fans showed the very same bias towards processing these violent images as those who were not fans of this music."
This could be big news, Thompson says, for use in "reassuring to parents or religious groups" that their kids' choice in metal doesn't necessarily promote violence any more than the other styles of music out there.
But how do Bloodbath feel about their tune being held up as the archetype of aggressive death metal?
"We don't have any issue with it," lead singer Nick Holmes told BBC News. "The lyrics are harmless fun, as the study proved. ... The majority of death metal fans are intelligent, thoughtful people who just have a passion for the music. It's the equivalent of people who are obsessed with horror movies or even battle re-enactments."
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