In the Journal of Community Psychology, Australian academics say that metal has a positive influence on young people aged 18-24.
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It's a tired and boring narrative, peddled by conservative media and scare-mongering traditionalists, that says getting into heavy music is in some way a destructive lifestyle choice. It seems to suggest that if music sounds even slightly aggressive, it must be transforming #ourteens into monsters. We know this isn't true – metal and the genres surrounding it are cathartic, artistic, important outlets, for musicians and fans – but now there's actual, irrefutable evidence to throw back in the faces of naysayers.
According to a new study undertaken by Australian psychologists Paula Rowe and Bernard Guerin entitled "Contextualising the mental health of metal youth: A community for social protection, identity, and musical empowerment," and published in the Journal of Community Psychology a couple of weeks back, there's evidence that metal is actually beneficial for the mental health of its young fans.
In the abstract for their study, Rowe and Guerin note:
Metal identities are popularly represented as leading to mental health issues but with flawed evidence. We documented the community contexts around metal and well-being by talking to young metalheads directly. We engaged in repeated, informal talks with 28 young Australians who strongly identified with metal (aged 18–24 years, 5 females and 23 males), and found that the metal identities and community protected them from mental health problems.
Though this is a small sample size, the researchers say that overwhelmingly, metal, and particularly the "imagined" or "real" communities fostered around the genre, were positive influences in the lives of the young people they worked with.
They noted four factors that all of their subjects had in common when talking about the good metal music did for them: all were bullied or sidelined during mainstream education, felt that metal gave them community, identified with metal music and lyrics when feeling isolated, and thought that taking on "metal identities" "enabled them to keep bullies, detractors, and others at bay, and to find friend groups."
The study concludes, therefore, that for their subjects at least, metal and assuming the identity of 'metal fan' detracted from potential mental health problems. The findings are interesting and welcome ones, and will certainly prove a challenge to boring, closed-minded conservatives. Instead, they exemplify the truth that for many, metal and genres like it provide sanctuary for people who feel alienated by mainstream culture.
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