The Effects of Heavy Metal Music on Aggression in College Students
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
COSS, S. L. (2000). The Effects of Heavy Metal Music on Aggression in College Students. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at Retrieved April 30, 2017 .

The Effects of Heavy Metal Music on Aggression in College Students

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (

The purpose of the present research was to examine the effect of heavy metal music on levels of aggression in college students. A 30-item questionnaire was created by the researchers. The questionnaire measured aggression by means of a self-reported scale of levels of aggression in response to potentially aggressive situations. Two groups of college students, 28 females and 4 males aged 17-20 were given the questionnaire. One group answered while listening to heavy metal music, the other group did not listen to any music. Findings indicated that there was no relationship between aggressive music and aggression in college students. Limitations and implications of the research are discussed.

Effects of Heavy Metal Music on Aggression in College StudentsHeavy metal music has been a source of criticism ever since its` birth in the late nineteen eighties. Its` controversial lyrics and harsh sound have made it the target of much blame for psychological and behavioral problems in teenagers. Heavy metal music has also been a source of perpetual worry for parents whose children listen to the music. At the same time, the listeners and fans of heavy metal say that the music helps them deal with their problems. In the wake of several school shootings in which the teenagers accused of the aggression have been found to be fans of heavy metal, much attention has been directed to the effects of the music on its listeners. This topic is of much importance in directly relating heavy metal music to aggression of any kind. A number of studies have been conducted on this topic, some of which include focuses such as, people`s response to music in general, aggression and music, the processing of heavy metal lyrics, heavy metal and its effect on mood, and response to violence in the environment. Music and its effects on mood are experienced everyday by millions of people. In Radcoy and Boyle (1997), physiological and mood responses to different types of music were studied. It was determined that music could possibly elicit any variety of feelings in its listeners: happiness, sadness, relaxation, frustration, and even aggression. These feelings are without question, conjured up from the individual`s previous experience with the music, or the lyrics presented in the music. Therefore an individual`s response to music is not just a product of the music itself, but of associations with the music. According to Radcoy and Boyle (1997), there is no question that songs with themes such as social reform, religion or even love mean something to its` listeners, therefore eliciting an affective response. Heavy metal music causing aggression then is not implausible according to Radcoy and Boyle (1997). The aggression may have been present in the individual before the music was introduced, causing the aggression to be amplified by the music. But also, an individual free of aggressive feelings beforehand may feel aggression after listening to the music or examining the songs` lyrics. Either way, the meaning extracted from the lyrics and the emotional responses elicited from the music are definitely subjective. As stated above music is believed to have psychological effects, but there is little definitive documentation on the subject. In one such study, Greenberg and Fisher (1971) found that subjects exposed to exciting music scored higher on power and hostility themes on the thematic apperception test (TAT). Although we do know that music can cause aggression or other feelings, it remains unclear what kind of music actually elicits these feelings or responses in certain people. (Fried and Berkowitz, 1979) A study conducted by Wanamaker and Reznikoff (1989) found that aggressive rock music and lyrics had no affect on TAT scores or on a separate aggressiveness questionnaire. In this, an age of censorship and banned lyrics, the real question is how significant are the effects of lyrics in rock, rap and especially heavy metal music.Lyrics in heavy metal music have long been criticized for being negative in nature and have been accused of influencing teenagers to do unacceptable things and to think objectionable thoughts. Heavy Metal music is categorized by loud pounding beats, sometimes with unintelligable lyrics in the background. Hanson and Hanson (1990) found that very rarely were the lyrics of heavy metal songs sources of arousal: rather the loud music itself was the source of physiological arousal. In other words, it is generally very difficult for the lyrics of heavy metal songs to be processed when listening to for the first time because of the characteristic tempo and barrage of heavy instrumentation associated with the music causes cognitive overload. This means that there is already too much for the brain to process with the music alone. The music and the lyrics coupled together are simply too much for the brain to handle. Despite the problem with processing its` lyrics, the themes of heavy metal music can be identified, and after repetitive listenings, the cognitive load is decreased according to Hanson and Hanson. (1990)A study by Ballard and Coates (1995) examined the relationship between heavy metal and rap songs and anger, depression, self-esteem, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. The participants in the study were 175 male and female psychology undergraduate students, most of which were Caucasian and upper middle class. There were six songs used in the study containing nonviolent/control, homicidal, and suicidal themes; three of which were heavy metal and three were rap. The researchers used six tests, one of which, the Memory-for-lyrics test was developed by the researchers themselves. The other tests administered were the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory, the Beck Depression Inventory, the Self-Esteem Scale, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Adult Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire. The participants were randomly assigned to groups of 5 to 10. They were instructed by a research assistant to concentrate on the lyrics of one song played twice. They were also informed that they were going to be given memory tests on the content of the lyrics. They were told that for extra credit in their classes, they could participate in a second study on personality. The researchers conducted the study in this manner so that the participants would not know that there was an expected link between the music and their mood. After the experiment, the participants were debriefed. The study found that lyrical content affected the participants` scores only on the anger inventory. The participants who had been tested with the nonviolent songs scored higher on the depression inventory than participants who had been tested with the violent songs. The researchers also found that the participants scored higher on the anger inventory for rap music than the heavy metal music. They explained this by stating that most of the participants preferred heavy metal music to rap music, and that rap music contained more profanity than heavy metal music, therefore hypothesizing that the participants were simply angered by the fact that they did not enjoy the music. The researches stated that the main limitation of the study was that it had been conducted in a sterile environment, therefore inhibiting the subjects` moods after listening to the music, as opposed to the subjects responding in a natural environment. The researchers also noted that future studies could control for length of exposure to the music, volume, and experimenting in a more natural setting. This study found a link between heavy metal music, rap music and anger very successfully.In an online article examining the effects of media violence on society states that, some studies show that when people are presented with a violent stimulus, they respond more when there is already a high level of violence in the environment to trigger them. This finding supports the previous experimenters concern for a natural environmental setting. In another words at a heavy metal concert where concert-goers are bombarded with loud violent music, the phenomena of the mosh pit defined as a group of people engaged in collective, aggressive jumping and shoving to music, would be much more natural than in a laboratory or for that matter any other setting. In this study, participants were also in a sterile environment, that of a college classroom with computers in it. Perhaps this absence of natural violent or nonviolent setting affected the results in this experiment. It was hypothesized in this study that if college students listened to heavy metal music while answering an aggression questionnaire, then they would report higher levels of aggression than those who did not listen to heavy metal music while answering the questionnaire. The relationship between heavy metal music and aggression was examined in this study because aggressive behavior is a growing problem in our society today, especially among young adults. Adolescents are influenced most by family, peers, and media, heavy metal music being a form of media they are exposed to. Since few studies have examined the immediate causal relationship between, heavy metal music and aggression, the researchers in this study strove to do just that. The independent variable in this experiment was heavy metal music. However the independent variable had two levels, a music and no music condition. The dependent variable in this experiment was the level of aggression reported by the participants on the questionnaire.

MethodParticipants The participants were collected by means of convenience sampling. The participants in the study were 40 undergraduate psychology students, all involved in Psychology Learning Communities at Loyola University New Orleans. The participants were mostly Caucasian with some African Americans, Hispanics and Asians. There were 3 male and 29 female participants, with a greater proportion of females. The participants were offered course credit for participation, and were informed by the leaders of their psychology learning community classes of the experiment. Materials The materials used in the experiment were: standard IRB consent forms, a standard portable boombox in the psychology computer lab in Monroe Hall to listen to the music provided, pencils to mark their responses on the given aggression questionnaire, the 25 item researcher generated aggression questionnaire, a copy of which is contained in the appendix,(containing questions proposing situations such as, If a telemarketer calls in the middle of dinner would you be a. nonviolent b. somewhat violent c. moderately violent and d. very violent), and finally the song "Jerk Off" by the heavy metal group Tool. The song being approximately 4 minutes in length.Design and Procedure The design of the experiment was experimental. The independent variable in this experiment was bi-level, including a music and no music condition. The dependent variable of the experiment was the level of aggression reported on the questionnaire by the no music/control group and the effect of the song on the varying levels of aggression measured by the questionnaire. The dependent variable was measured by the increase in aggressive responses on the aggression questionnaire in those participants that listened to music while answering the questionnaire as compared with the participant that listened to no music while answering the questionnaire. Participants were told to be present in the psychology computer lab, room 469 of Monroe Hall at Loyola University New Orleans at the allotted time for the experiment. The researchers walked into the room, thanked the students for their participation and handed the participants two copies of the informed consent form. The participants were then asked to sign both copies of the form and to fill out the second copy with their address if they wished to receive the results of this study. They were also asked to detach and keep the second copy for their own records, and to hand in the first copy for ours. The participants were then handed the aggression questionnaire and were asked to not look ahead in the packet. The participants were then asked if they had any questions regarding the nature of the study or their rights as participants. The participants were handed pencils and told to begin filling out a preliminary nonsense questionnaire. The questionnaire asked the participants to "Name all the songs you can in 45 seconds", in order to clear their minds and to allow them to begin listening to the music. Then the music, by way of a portable boombox was immediately turned on by the experimenters. Half of the participants were put in a control condition where they did not listen to music while filling out the questionnaire. After the experiment was completed, the participants were debriefed. They were told that the experiment in which they just participated, was measuring the effects of heavy metal music on aggression in college students. The participants were reminded of the existence of the Loyola Counseling Center, and given the number to the facility if they were distraught or if they felt as though they needed to talk to someone after the experiment. The participants were thanked again for participating and then told they were free to go.




Results The research was aimed at answering one central question : Is heavy metal music a catalyst for aggressive behavior? The aggression questionnaire used by the researchers revealed that there was no connection between heavy metal music and aggressive tendencies. The sample size was N=32, 16 for each condition. The participants in the no music/control condition actually reported higher levels of aggression, M=48.0, in response to the questions presented than did the participants in the music condition, M=45.9. The standard deviation from the mean for the no music/control group was 9.5, and the standard error was 2.734, where the standard deviation from the mean for the music group was 10.9. Since the scores for the no/music group were higher than the music group the difference was not statistically significant (t = -.57, df = 10, p > .574)Therefore, the hypothesis presented in the introduction section of this report was rejected. The mean age of the participants was 18 and the sample was 87.5% female. The mean hours of music listened to daily by the participants was 2.5 hours. The scores of the participants varied between conditions, but not in the way the researchers had expected in fact they were opposite from what the researchers had hypothesized. The alpha level of the study was set at .05.

Discussion The researchers found no support in the results of this study for the original hypothesis that heavy metal music causes higher self-reported levels of aggression. The results of the experiment were just the opposite from what was expected. The levels of aggression in the no music/control condition were higher than in the music condition, though not statistically significant. According to Radcoy and Boyle (1997), the song used in the experiment, Tool`s "Jerk-Off", should have elicited some sort of emotion, and maybe it did, but the test was inadequate in measuring the emotion. Greenburg and Fisher (1971), found that participants exposed to exciting music scored higher on power and hostility themes on the TAT, indicating that the participants in this experiment should have reacted with more hostility to the heavy metal music than they did. The results of the experiment are consistent with Wanamaker and Reznikoff`s (1989) study on the effect of aggressive rock music on levels of aggression. They found that the music caused no effects on TAT scores or on scores in a separate aggression questionnaire. According to Hanson and Hanson (1990), people have a hard time processing the lyrics of heavy metal songs because the music itself is too distracting. This finding was confirmed in this experiment. A sample of the lyrics used is "I should just get a gun and shoot you myself". The researchers felt that if the lyrics would have been examined alone, or if the participants would have understood the lyrics better, levels of aggression would have been higher. This theory of understanding lyrical content was further confirmed by Ballard and Coates (1995) who found that the lyrical content of songs affected participants scores on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The major shortcoming in this study was the quality of the questions contained in the aggression questionnaire. The questions contained could have produced significant levels of aggression with no music accompanying it. A sample question is "Your boss accuses you of stealing from the register and fires you on the spot". The questions seemed to evoke aggressive feelings sufficient enough that the music would no affect levels of aggression any further. This shortcoming in the study caused the experiment to be invalid. The only way to avoid this bias in future studies would be to develop a better aggression questionnaire, with better questions and a better scale. Another limitation of the study was sample size. There were only 16 participants in each condition of the experiment, making the results of the study not very representitive of the population. Another limitation of the study was that the participants could easily figure out the purpose of the study. The study would have been much more significant had the participants been unaware that their levels of aggression in response to heavy metal music were being measured. Had this study been better conducted it would have been easier for the researchers to list implications of the study. But because of its inconsistencies , the researchers cannot wholeheartedly list any practical implications. But assuming that the findings in this experiment are consistent with the general population, the theoretical implications are great. The implications would be that heavy metal music could no longer be blamed for bad or violent behavior. In short people could no longer say that they were influenced by the music. They would have to take personal responsibility for their actions. Future studies should be conducted in this area of research because the findings from all of the studies already conducted are very conflicting. In future studies, experimenters would do well to find a better indicator of aggression, a bigger and more representative population, and a better research method to study the effects of heavy metal music on aggression in people across the board. Maybe if the experiments in the future are conducted better, than we would finally have an answer to the question, can music make us aggressive or even happy or sad? The world wants to know what role music can or does play on our emotions.

ReferencesBallard, M., & Coates, S. (1995). The immediate effects of homicidal, suicidal, and nonviolent heavy metal and rap songs on the moods of college students. Youth and Society, 27, 148-168.Fried, R., & Berkowitz, L. (1979). Music both charms…and can influence helpfulness. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 913, 199-208. Greenberg, R. P., Fisher, S. (1971). Some different effects of music on projective and structured psychological tests. Psychological Reports, 28, 817-818. Hansen, C. H., & Hansen R.D. (1990). Schematic information processing of heavy metal lyrics. Communication Research, 374-408. Radcoy, R., & Boyle, J. (1997). Psychological Foundations of Musical Behavior (3rd ed.). Springfield: Charles C. Thomas. Wanamaker, L., & Reznikoff, M. (1989). Effects of aggressive and nonaggressive rock songs on projective and structured tests. The Journal of Psychology, 123, 561-570.

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