Nathalie Jonsson

Science Writer 

You Are What You Listen To

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We listen to a lot of music. That is true today more than any other time. I am myself a self-proclaimed music junkie. In research, there has been a long search for a link between music preference and behaviour.

About a month ago, a study found that college students listening to metal music suffered depression and anxiety to a higher degree than their peers that preferred pop or ‘chart music’.

This association has been made before: In a study from 2001, Adolescents preferring heavy metal music were more likely to drink alcohol and take illegal drugs. They were also described as more likely to ‘worship music in a more prominent way’ (probably means more passionate about their genre than ‘chart listeners’) and to use music to deal with aggressive emotions.

Only the teenage girls listening to heavy metal seemed to deal with more feelings of alienation and even showed a suicide risk than same-sex peers. The conclusion is that the heavy metal genre probably is more accepted amongst boys and more alienating amongst girls. (Any female heavy metal fans that want to share their thoughts on that?) Personally, I suspect that listening to music that deals with aggression or feelings of alienation might be a cultural aspect of the genre, rather than actual feelings that individual listeners experience.

Most research looking at this relationship finds many negative effects associated with listening to heavy metal music, but takes us nowhere closer to understanding if young people with a certain mindset choose specific types of music or is it the music that brings certain behaviours out of them.

I wonder if it matters? We have all been there. Being a teenager was hard. Your days revolved around fitting in. You did what your friends did. My hunch is that what group you belong to as a teenager is more or less arbitrary – the importance lies in belonging to any group. It is your first attempt at testing the waters and gaining your very first life experience. Of course, you have to start somewhere.

Maybe the recent Canadian evidence that music you like activates old reward systems in the brain sheds some light on the issue.

The music we enjoy makes us feel good.
Maybe that is all that matters?

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