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The Therapeutic Benefits of Extreme Music

The effects of extreme music on your teen.

Flickr Creative Commons/Luke Price
Source: Flickr Creative Commons/Luke Price

Ben walked into the house and headed straight to his room. He hooked his phone up to the Bluetooth speaker and picked up his electric guitar. Flipping on the amp he searched for his favorite band and within minutes sounds of deathcore music echoed throughout the house. The windows and walls vibrated to the sound of the intense and extreme music. Ben’s mother cringed when she heard the loud blaring music, but over the years she had learned to tune it out. She knew Ben needed his time to zone out of his everyday world, but she often worried the harsh music was contributing to his foul mood. Little did she know, it did the opposite... The music actually served a therapeautic purpose by providing Ben with an outlet to work through his feelings and emotions.

If you have a teen and this scenario sounds familiar, you, like Ben’s mother, may also be concerned over the type of music your teen listens to and how it is affecting him/her. You too may feel your blood pressure rise, as sharp guitar riffs pulse throughout the house, but there is good news… It may not be having the same effect on your teen as it’s having on you. In fact, that same extreme music that makes your brain rattle may be helping your teen process his/her feelings - especially if those feelings involve anger, anxiety, or depression. Sure, it’s easy to want to blame the harsh music for your teen’s behavior, but according to a new study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, it’s not the music’s fault.

Flickr Creative Commons/Ted Van Pelt
Source: Flickr Creative Commons/Ted Van Pelt

A study released from the University of Queensland, an Australian public research institution in Brisbane, found that listening to 'extreme' music may actually have a calming effect and help your teen process his/her feelings in a healthy way. Researchers defined extreme music as chaotic, loud, powerful and emotional vocals that contained themes of anger, anxiety, depression, social isolation, and loneliness. They focused on music from the genres and subgenres of heavy metal, emotional (EMO), hardcore, punk, and screamo.

Thirty-nine participants aged 18-34 years, who listened to extreme music, spent 16 minutes in an 'anger induction' session where they described relationship, employment and financial issues that upset them. Next they were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group spent 10 minutes listening to songs of their choice from their personal playlist. The other group, a control group, sat for 10 minutes in silence. Results showed that extreme music did not make participants angrier, rather it helped them feel better. Furthermore it provided participants with an outlet to help process their emotions in a healthy manner.

Let’s face it: historically, extreme music has gotten a bad rap. It was commonly associated with headbanging, mosh pits and Satanism, but in a lot of situations that is simply untrue. I can recall from my own childhood, my parent’s concern over the sounds of heavy metal blasting from my room. While today, I enjoy many genres of music, I still enjoy listening to the music of my childhood. Music is a great way to help connect, interact and make sense of the world we live. It’s an artistic expression not only of instruments, but of composition both lyrical and musical.

Flickr Creative Commons/ProMartin Fisch
Source: Flickr Creative Commons/ProMartin Fisch

Studies like this one help illustrate the healing power and comfort music can provide. We use music to celebrate good times and to help get us through bad times. Music can help regulate feelings of sadness and anger all while helping us connect and feel better about our situation. Plus, it appears that we tend to gravitate toward songs that match our mood, which makes sense if you think about it.

If we are in a great mood, we most likely aren’t going to be drawn to a depressing song with a slow tempo. Well, the same is true if we’re mad. Imagine being angry and trying to listen to the song “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. It simply doesn't fit the moment. Music helps us identify and match feelings. It has such a therapeutic quality and it helps us better regulate emotions and connect with life experiences. It instills the message that we are not alone in this world. Most importantly it lets us know that somebody out there gets us.

So for all of you whose teen would eagerly throw himself/herself in a mosh pit and is constantly growling incomprehensible lyrics, find comfort in the knowledge he/she may be benefiting from listening to “that” music. In fact, the therapeutic advantages of extreme music may help improve your teen’s overall well-being. So in summary, AC/DC says it best: “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).”