Study: Death metal music doesn’t desensitize listeners to violence

While death metal band names and song lyrics may invoke images of violence and darkness, a new study suggests the music doesn’t desensitize fans to those themes.

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Researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, used music about cannibalism and death alongside the song "Happy" by Pharrell Williams to investigate the emotional effects on listeners, The Independent reported.

"Many people enjoy sad music, and that's a bit of a paradox -- why would we want to make ourselves sad?" Professor Bill Thompson told The BBC. "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."

To conduct the experiment, researchers recruited a group of students, 32 of whom were self-professed death metal fans and 48 non-fans.

Researchers then showed violent and non-violent images to study participants – one in each eye – who were then told to indicate on which one they focused. While doing so, participants wore headphones and listened to either the death metal band, "Bloodbath," or the song "Happy." The goal was to measure how much participants' brains noticed violent scenes, and to compare how their sensitivity was affected by the accompanying music, said lead researcher Yanan Sun.

The findings were that everyone, including death metal fans, were affected by the violent images being presented to them, according to The Independent.

“This finding raises doubts about arguments that long-term exposure to violent media may desensitize consumers to violence,” the scientists wrote.

When Bloodbath’s lead singer, Nick Holmes, was asked how the band felt about their music being used in the study, Holmes said they didn’t mind.

“The majority of death metal fans are intelligent, thoughtful people who just have a passion for the music," he said. "It's the equivalent of people who are obsessed with horror movies or even battle re-enactments."

The study can be read at the journal, Royal Society Open Science here.

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