A study published today by the Royal Society journal Open Science concluded that death metal fans aren't desensitized to the violent imagery described in song lyrics. Instead, the researchers from Macquarie University's music lab found that fans experience feelings of joy and empowerment rather than violence and rage. "[Death metal] fans are nice people," said Professor Bill Thompson from the university based in Sydney. "They're not going to go out and hurt someone." Thompson and his team have studied the link between emotional responses and music for decades, a relationship that is far more complex than it appears.
Participants in the study were identified as either fans or non-fans of death metal. The 32 fans and 48 non-fans were randomly selected to listen to one of two songs: Happy by Pharrell Williams, or Eaten by death metal band Bloodbath. Each participant was shown a pair of images, one violent and the other nonviolent, simultaneously while listening to the song.
"It's called binocular rivalry," said lead researcher Yanan Sun. People who are presented with both violent and neutral images should look at violent ones more, presumably because our brains are more perceptive of threats, he explained. "If fans of violent music were desensitized to violence, which is what a lot of parent groups, religious groups and censorship boards are worried about, then they wouldn't show this same bias. But the fans showed the very same bias towards processing these violent images as those who were not fans of this music."