INTRODUCTION “Turn it up” my friend screams from the backseat of my car; she begins to sing along and dance to the music. “This song always puts me in a good mood,” she exclaims. Suddenly, the quiet car transforms into a party. This is an example of music’s influence on mood. People rely on music to affect their mood and change the way they feel. In most cases, the change in mood is positive, but sometimes the effect of music on mood is negative. It is in these cases that problems occur. Sad, violent, and aggressive songs can cause such emotions in listeners. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of heavy metal music on levels of aggression. Violent, aggressive behavior has become a recurrent problem in today’s society. Family, peers, and media are chief factors in this epidemic. Heavy metal music is a form of media and could be one of the causes of aggression in some young adults. Music consists of lyrics and major keys and minor keys, which help songwriters convey the general mood of the song. Major keys tend to relate to happy moods while minor keys tend to depict dark, sad or angry moods. Most of the keys used in heavy metal music are minor keys. Additionally, the lyrics are blatant descriptions of aggression, violence, and loneliness of heavy metal songs, which add to the sadness, or anger of the minor keys.. This combination of the minor keys and negative lyrics could possibly lead to antisocial behavior (Arnett, 1996). Several studies have investigated the correlation between heavy metal music and aggression. Arnett (1996) reports that male heavy metal fans are more reckless than males that do not listen to heavy metal music. He concludes that although it may seem as if heavy metal music causes reckless, antisocial behavior, in reality, the people that exhibit such behavior are attracted to heavy metal music. It is possible that the same people that participate in reckless behavior are fans of heavy metal music because both convey intense sensations. Another study by Baumeister, Boden, and Smart (1996) presents the idea that violence erupts from people with high self-esteem (or large egos) when they are threatened. This view opposes the stereotypical idea that aggressive, violent “bullies” have low self-esteem. Because heavy metal songwriters and performers produce violent, aggressive songs, we can conclude that they have large egos and often feel threatened. We assume that heavy metal fans have the same characteristics and that having large egos and reckless personality traits correlate with preference of heavy metal music. The latter personality characteristic has motivated researchers to study the relationship between heavy metal music and aggression. Some studies have not looked at heavy metal music directly but they have investigated noise and aggression and found that arousing noise causes aggression in individuals. In a study conducted by Green and O’Neal, (1996) participants viewed a violent film about boxing or a non-violent film about sports. After watching the films, participants were exposed to noise. Some listened to arousing, non-annoying noise while others listened to non-arousing (calm) noise. The participants were instructed to administer a test. Their job was to give another individual a shock when they believed the individual had answered a question incorrectly. Those participants who listened to the arousing noise and watched the boxing film were more aggressive and gave more shocks than the participants that listened to non-arousing noise and watched boxing films. The results from the participants that watched the sports film were not reported. If arousing noise causes aggression in people, then is it possible that heavy metal music (being arousing noise) could also cause aggression? Some research claims that heavy metal music has a calming effect on listeners. When asked why they listened to heavy metal, some fans believed it had a cathartic effect on them. They reported feeling angry, sad, or stressed when they first began listening to a song and feel as if the music helped them to release negative emotions (Arnett). There is conflicting evidence that catharsis performed in order to reduce aggression actually causes higher levels of aggression. A study by Bushman, Baummeister, and Stack (1999) tested the levels of aggression in participants after half of them read a pro-catharsis article and the other half read an anti-catharsis article. Once the participants read the articles, they were asked to write their own papers and have them critiqued. In reality, the articles were not truly critiqued, but negative comments were written on all the papers, so that the participants would become angry. Some of the participants were then asked to hit a punching bag as a form of catharsis. After hitting the punching bag, the participants were given a test of aggression. The participants that read the pro-catharsis article and punched the bag scored higher on the aggression test than the rest of the participants. The supposed purging of aggression made the participants more aggressive. This can be related to heavy metal music fans and the violent slam dancing that takes place at concerts. The fans are reacting aggressively to the musical catharsis by slamming into one another and creating a pit of chaos. Up to now, we have discussed research on musical keys, noise, and catharsis, we will now consider the lyrics of heavy metal music as a cause of aggression. The delivery of heavy metal lyrics and the loud instruments in the background allow for easy misinterpretation of the words in the songs. How can the lyrics affect mood if the listener does not understand them? Hansen and Hansen (1991) investigate this problem in their study about the schematic processing of heavy metal lyrics. Participants in the study filled out a musical preference scale. They listened to four songs, each from a different category: sex, suicide, violence, and occult. Half of the participants were given written lyrics as they listen to the songs, while the second half did not have the lyrics. The participants took a free recall test and a recognition test. Hansen and Hansen report that both groups of participants, those with and without written lyrics could understand the general message of the songs. If the themes of the songs were to become more mentally accessible, as they are for a fan of heavy metal music, then the listener will begin to understand the world through the lyrics of the songs. Fans adopt the negative outlook of the world that heavy metal music conveys. This may explain the correlation between listening to heavy metal music and depression, violence, and aggression. A few studies have investigated the immediate effects of heavy metal music on mood although not specifically on aggression. Ballard and Coates (1995) researched nonviolent, homicidal, and suicidal heavy metal and rap songs and their effects on college students. The purpose of Ballard and Coates’ study was to investigate the effects of the lyrical content of heavy metal and rap songs on mood. The participants were randomly assigned to six groups. Each group listened to a different type of song: nonviolent rap, homicidal rap, suicidal rap, nonviolent heavy metal, homicidal heavy metal, and suicidal heavy metal. Each group listened to their song twice and took a memory test in order to evaluate how well they could remember the lyrics to the song. The State-Trait Anger Inventory showed that lyrical content did affect the participants’ scores; those listening to the homicidal heavy metal songs scored higher than those listening to nonviolent heavy metal songs. Although this study looked at the relationship between music and aggression, the results do not report a causal connection between heavy metal music and aggression. Up to this date, few studies have investigated the immediate causal relationship between heavy metal music and aggression or have been able to prove such a relationship. We hoped to contribute to scientific knowledge of music’s effect on mood by showing that there is a direct causal relationship between the two. The independent variable was the violent heavy metal song ( “Jerk Off” by Tool) that the experimenters played for some of the participants while they took an aggression survey that consisted of everyday scenarios. The dependant variable was the level of aggression the participants felt in response to the music. We also took into account the type of music preferred by the participants. It was hypothesized that the levels of aggression would be higher for the participants that listened to the heavy metal music while taking the survey than for the participants that did not listen to music while taking the survey.
METHOD Participants The sample used in this study was a convenient sample. The participants of this study were 32 college students at Loyola University. They were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. They participated on a voluntary basis. Some participants were given class credit for participating in the study. There were more female participants than male participants. Most participants were Caucasian, a few were from various racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Materials The materials used were aggression surveys, a compact disc with the song “Jerk Off” by Tool on it, and a portable stereo. The survey taken by the participants was made up by the primary investigators and a copy appears in Appendix A. It includes questions about musical preference as well as scenarios and aggressive reaction scales. One of the scenarios on the questionnaire was “You are in the middle of dinner and the phone rings. The caller is a telemarketer.” The participants recorded their feelings of aggression on a scale from one to five, one being calm and five being hostile.
Design and Procedure The design of this study was experimental. The independent variable was the heavy metal song played for one group of participants and the lack of music for the second group of participants. The dependant variable was aggression. It was measured using an aggression survey of scenarios made up by the primary investigators. The variables controlled were the age group of the participants and the room the test was administered in. The same room was used so that the presence of music was the only variable different between the two groups. We did not want outside variables such as temperature or seating to affect the groups differently. The first group of participants came to the computer lab. They sat down in the chairs and were handed informed consent forms. They read them and signed the forms. The consents were collected and the participants kept one copy for their records. They were handed the aggression survey. Once everyone had surveys, they were asked to fill them out. They were given fifteen minutes to complete the survey. They were debriefed about the specific reason for the study. They were given the phone number to the counseling services on campus in case they felt aggressive after filling out the survey. The participants were thanked and released. The second group of participants came into the computer lab. The same procedure followed except that the test administrator turned on the music before they began to answer the survey. Once the music began playing, the participants were instructed to begin to answer the surveys. They were given fifteen minutes to complete the survey. Upon completion, the participants were debriefed about the specific reason for the study. We gave each participant the phone number to the counseling services on campus in case they felt aggressive after listening to heavy metal music and answering the survey. The participants were thanked and released.
RESULTS The research investigated the relationship between heavy metal music and aggression. The hypothesis was that participants listening to heavy metal music while completing an aggression survey would score higher and more aggressive than the participants that did not listen to any type of music while completing the survey. The sample size was N= 32 (n=16 for both music and no music groups). The mean of the total survey scores for the no music group was 48.0. The standard deviation for the total scores of the no music group was 9.5 and the standard error was 2.734.The mean of the total survey scores from the music group was 45.9. The standard deviation for the total scores of the music group was 10.9. The mean scores of the no music group was higher than the mean of the music groups but the difference was not statistically significant (t = -.57, df = 10, p > .574).
DISCUSSION Many of the past studies concerning music and mood looked at the correlation between the two variables. This study was an effort to demonstrate the causal relationship between heavy metal music and aggression. The hypothesis was that the levels of aggression would be higher for the participants that listened to heavy metal music while completing an aggression survey than for the participants that did not listen to music while completing the same survey. The study consisted of two sample groups. The first group completed an aggression survey made up by the investigators without the music playing. The survey included demographic questions and scenario questions. The participants were asked to report the level of aggression on a scale of 1-5 to indicate the degree of aggression they would experience in each scenario. The second group completed the same survey except that heavy metal music played in the background. The survey scores of the two groups were compared. The results of the study did not support the hypothesis. The results of our study are different from the results of previous studies conducted on the topic of mood and music. Arnett (1996) was able to show a correlation between reckless behavior and heavy metal music. He concluded that people attracted to reckless behavior are also attracted to heavy metal music for the intense feelings that are involved in both. Ballard and Coates’ (1995) study on the effects of the content of heavy metal and rap songs on mood also came up with results different from our study. Ballard and Coates’ study showed higher levels of anger for participants listening to homicidal heavy metal music than those listening to nonviolent heavy metal songs but the difference in scores was not great enough to conclude a causal relationship. Our study was unable to show any kind of relationship (specifically causal or correlation) between heavy metal music and aggression. There are several limitations to consider while reading the results of this study. The sample size was small. The control group had 16 participants and the experimental group had 16 participants. Because of the small size of the sample, the experiment was not powerful. The lack of another type of music condition to compare the heavy metal condition to is also a factor that could change the results. This study compared presence of music to absence of music; if the results had shown that participants in the music condition were more aggressive, it is arguable that any type of music causes aggression. The validity of the aggression survey could also have been a problem. Scenario-type questions are easily misinterpreted and everyone reacts differently in various situations. It is possible that the questions do not test levels of aggression accurately. Another limitation is that we tested two different groups of people. It is possible, since we used convenient sampling, that all the participants in the no music condition (which scored higher than the music condition) are just naturally more aggressive people than the music condition participants. If this study used a test re-test experiment, we would be able to throw out the aggressive personality variable by testing the same people and changing the conditions each time they are tested. Another limitation is that we did not control for gender or fans of heavy metal music. The lack of male participants resulted in less data from the sex that tends to be more aggressive and participants that normally listen to heavy metal music may have been desensitized to the lyrics and musical keys in the song played. These limitations help to explain some of the reasons why the results do not support the hypothesis. Because the results do not support the hypothesis, we cannot imply that there are aggressive behavioral consequences for those listening to heavy metal music. The theoretical implications are that future studies will be able to reduce the limitations that have occurred in this study. A larger sample size would give the study more power. If future researchers added another condition, such as a calm music condition, they would be able to investigate the calming effects of calm music on mood as opposed to the aggressive effects of heavy metal music on mood. Future studies could also use the test re-test design. This would give the study more power because the same people with the same levels of aggression would score higher or lower depending on the type of music played for them. Researchers could use purposive sampling to weed out any heavy metal music fans from the samples. This would get rid of the chance of those fans being desensitized to the lyrics and keys. Future researchers will hopefully learn from the limitations of this study and produce results that show the causal relationship between music and mood and possibly between heavy metal music and aggression.
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