Heavy Metal Music and Emotional Dysphoria

People of all backgrounds often appreciate music with lyrics and instruments that express their emotions, yet research indicates that heavy metal music with aggressive themes could increase aggression and delinquency among listeners – this evidence being predominantly correlational as causal links remain difficult to draw.

Contrarians sometimes cite these results to assert that metalheads are at greater risk for emotional dysphoria such as depression, self-harm or suicide.


Early metal musicians were heavily influenced by blues music and early psychedelic rock bands such as Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix who introduced amplified guitar sounds with distortion effects. Heavy metal eventually evolved into an alternative culture which glorified darkness, evil, power, and apocalypse – topics often avoided in mainstream pop music.

Musically, metal music is defined by its signature electric guitar sound – with powerful chords often playing overdistorted and feedback effects. Metal also features fast beats involving double kick or blast drums and complex guitar riffs; often featuring screaming or growled vocals which may also feature distortion. Metal has many subgenres including black metal (described as devil worship), death metal (thrash), stoner metal, progressive metal as well as other influences coming from non-metal genres as well.

Though metal songs often feature controversial lyrics with violent imagery, there is no proof that heavy metal music causes violence or emotional dysphoria. Unfortunately, negative attitudes toward metal fans have had an adverse effect on social and mental health settings; Rosenbaum and Prinsky reported that 83% of mental health facilities recommended hospitalizing a hypothetical young male listening to heavy metal music even though he denied drug and alcohol abuse and did not display suicidal or violent tendencies.

Though there is no scientific proof that heavy metal music causes emotional dysphoria, research indicates it may increase arousal and agitation. One study demonstrated this with subjects being forced into an angry state who then listened to heavy metal music compared to non-metal genres; when participants were then asked to listen to their preferred genre after having been forced into anger they did not experience increased anger or physiological arousal levels when listening to that genre instead.

Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, KISS, Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin’s music has long been accused of having pagan imagery which has led to accusations of satanism from fundamentalist Christians. Furthermore, its leading musicians’ antics (such as Ozzy Osbourne biting off a bat head during one performance) has contributed to an image of danger, rebellion and immorality associated with metal music genre.


Heavy metal music and its fans have often been accused of violent behavior, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and even murder. Such criticism stems from lyrics that explore themes such as madness and horror while the genre itself often utilizes strong tempos, loud volume levels and harsh vocal effects like distortion that give its music its distinctive sound. Coupled with its distinctive fashion aesthetics among fans known as “metalheads”, heavy metal has been targeted by parents, watchdog groups and government officials looking to limit or ban its dissemination.

Heavy metal has emerged as an influential global subculture despite intense critical scrutiny, boasting its own fashion and aesthetics as well as inspiring numerous subgenres. Additionally, heavy metal provides an expression for long-held emotions or suppressed memories while inspiring resilience and rebellion against social norms.

Black Sabbath and other rock bands began using amplified electric guitars to produce heavier sounds than their blues-based contemporaries in the 1960s, thereby giving birth to metal as a genre. Metal incorporates blues rhythms with heavier guitar riffs, downtuned tuning, distorted vocal sounds and dissonant harmonics as well as dark themes such as images of power and darkness that foster violence and aggression among young men. This led to its negative reputation of dangerous music that fosters violence and aggression among young men who listeners.

Many studies have explored whether listening to heavy metal music increases the risk of anger, aggressive cognitions and antisocial behaviour in both community and psychiatric populations. Unfortunately, however, most of these correlational analyses don’t provide direct evidence that heavy metal causes these outcomes.

Labbe et al. (2007) conducted an experiment that demonstrated how listening to classical or “calming” music selected by either themselves or by experimenters after being exposed to stressors resulted in lower anger levels and physiological arousal compared with those listening to heavy metal music, suggesting this effect is caused by its psychologically stimulating qualities rather than any inherent musical characteristics or negative stereotypes of either genre.


Studies contradict a long-held perception that metal music is aggressive. According to PsychCentral, one study revealed that listening to heavy metal reduced cortisol levels–a stress hormone. Furthermore, several other studies suggest metal can help fans calm down faster when anger arises.

Another key finding was that the effect of listening to heavy metal on mood and behavior depends on its use. A recent longitudinal study with male adolescents demonstrated this through preference for metal music as well as affiliation with peers who enjoy it; externalizing behaviors were thus predicted by multiple factors including preference and affiliation with peers who also listen to this genre; it wasn’t directly effective against depression, rather its lyrical content cultivated externalizing behavior in some ways.

Metal music lyrics depicting aggression and violence were linked with externalizing behaviors in adolescents in several different ways, depending on how adolescents used the genre. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated a stronger link between music and externalising behaviors among non-clinical populations than clinical ones; it’s thus crucial that individuals explore why they engage with these genres both clinically and non-clinically.

As it should come as no surprise, heavy music is predominantly female genre despite popular perception. According to UCL Anthropology student Lindsay Bishop’s study on metal gigs hosted at UCL, around one third are composed of female attendees – many being older, disabled or LGBTQ+ individuals. Indeed, young people today are creating more welcoming spaces than ever for themselves that could potentially have positive impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

However, negative associations surrounding heavy metal and its fans continue to have an adverse impact on its reception in society, institutional, and clinical settings. Studies have documented that 83% of representatives from psychiatric facilities recommended hospitalisation for an imaginary young male associated with heavy metal culture despite his not engaging in alcohol or drug consumption, suicidal thoughts/behavior, nor neglecting schoolwork – an issue which requires further study so as to ensure clinical decision-making regarding metal therapy is grounded on empirical data.


Studies have identified links between music and externalizing behaviors such as aggression and delinquency as well as internalising disorders like depression. But its relationship may depend on its use for coping purposes – according to Shafron and Karno’s findings, pyschoticism personality traits were linked with metal listeners only when used to mask emotions they were feeling through listening.

Heavy metal lyrics frequently depict themes of violence, drug abuse and disregard for social norms; this has led several studies to conclude that heavy metal fans are at higher risk for externalizing problems. While correlational research may establish cause-and-effect relationships between genres of music and problems they promote, further empirical investigation must also take place.

Even though stereotypes about metal fans may be strong, evidence exists to demonstrate its sense of community and acceptance. A UCL study by Anthropology student Lindsay Bishop discovered that though most metal fans were male in composition, this does not accurately represent their fan base – around one third are female on average with gigs often filled with older people, disabled individuals and families as regular attendees. Furthermore, long term metal fans report reduced psychological distress levels than non-fans.

Studies have also demonstrated that violent lyrical content found in metal music does not make its fans more aggressive; on the contrary, listening to metal often increases positive emotions such as enjoyment and excitement for those feeling angry – suggesting anger as an appropriate response to listening to such music.

Suicidal behaviors and music is an often-complex relationship, requiring further empirical studies with clinical populations. A recent inpatient psychiatric unit study, however, discovered that male adolescents who preferred metal music were more likely to be admitted for aggression, substance use and depression than those who didn’t listen to this genre (Weidinger & Demi, 1991). This suggests that its adverse effects are dependent on individual mental health status.