People – and especially parents – have been concerned with the effects of seemingly violent music on the public since at least the advent of rock and roll, and potentially even further back in time.
These days, parents, teachers, public figures and researchers have turned their sights on violent rap and death metal, and their potential impact on the developing brains of children and young adults.
In a new study by a group of researchers from the Macquarie University in Australia, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, also in Australia, and the Institute of Psychology in China, 80 student volunteers have been tested to gauge their response to violence by proxy.
That is, both groups – 32 students who self-identified as fans of death metal, and 48 students who did not listen to violent music – were asked to look into a device capable of showing different images to individual eyes at the same time.
Prior studies have shown this method, called the “binocular rivalry paradigm”, to be reliable in identifying bias towards different stimuli, in this case – violent images, which were shown simultaneously with neutral ones.
The students were then asked which of the two images they were perceiving (or whether the image was simply a blur). Results have shown no significant differences between the groups, which, the researchers claim, indicates that violent music does not reduce people’s sensitivity to actual violence.
To clinch the findings, the group performed another experiment, this time playing either violent metal or happy upbeat music while repeating the same procedure.
Here, again, the results confirmed that “both fans and non-fans of violent music exhibit a reliable bias for processing violent imagery over neutral imagery regardless of what genres of music they were listening to”, wrote the researchers in their paper, out in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
This study is congruent with other research indicating that fans of violent music have about the same empathic ability as those who prefer more laid-back tunes, casting further doubt over the diffuse hypothesis that violent art leads to actual violence, although the debate is by no means fully settled.