You raise a very interesting question that professionals have been attempting to research for years – how much does media affect moods and behaviors, and, specifically, how much does heavy metal music impact a person’s level of aggression? The Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) at Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health is a facility that aims to understand and educate children, teens, and their parents about the impact of media on the physical, mental, and social health of minors.
One of the CMCH webpages, What Has Research Shown About Concerns Of Music, presents the following information:
Very few studies have examined the effects of music on children’s behaviors. As yet, there is no evidence that music and lyrics cause children or adolescents to behave in dangerous or unhealthy ways. In fact, most children do not even know or understand the lyrics to many popular songs.
Heavy Metal Music
Most research on music use has examined heavy metal music and the people who choose to listen to it. Studies have found that children who listen to heavy metal music are more likely to participate in a number of risky behaviors including drug use, drunk driving, and casual sex. Heavy metal listeners also report more conflicts with authority figures, such as teachers, and are more prone to depressive feelings and suicidal thoughts.
However, it is important to note that no studies indicate that heavy metal music causes these behaviors; instead, experts think that children who engage in risky or antisocial behaviors are drawn to hard, defiant music. Heavy metal simply supports their view of the world. Listening to heavy metal music may be a “red flag” indicating that the teen might be depressed or want to separate him or herself from the world.
It is possible that you are already dealing with various anger issues that draw you to this type of music – and it is also possible that when you listen to heavy metal it intensifies these feelings in you. That said, TeenHealthFX likes the idea of your experiment – to go a couple of weeks listening to more calming and less aggressive music and see how it affects your mood. During this experiment think about whether you are finding yourself feeling less edgy and agitated and whether you are thinking less about fighting with others. If you are, you may consider cutting back on the heavy metal in general.
If you find after this experiment that you are feeling just as angry or the anger and angry thoughts have not diminished all that much, you might consider meeting with a mental health professional for a consultation. Your aggressive thoughts and moods might be connected to some kind of mood disorder, anger stemming from environmental factors or relationship strains with friends or family, or messages you get from your home or community about men and aggression (i.e., that men should be tough and aggressive, solve things by fighting, etc.). In addition, keep in mind that as a teenager you are going through various hormonal changes. Hormonal changes can be responsible, to a certain degree, for changes in mood during adolescence. So, if the music doesn’t seem to be the main contributing factor, a mental health professional can help illuminate what the main contributing factors might be in your case.
If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.
While your question was mainly about the effect of music on mood, CMCH looks at the effect of all kinds of media on aggression, including video games, movies, and television. The CMCH webpage Does Using Violent Media Cause Children To Be Violent? states that “…after 50 years of research, scientists have come to the consensus that using violent media contributes to children’s aggression.” That said, in addition to thinking about the music you listen to, do you spend a great deal of time playing violent video games and/or watching violent television shows and movies? If so, you might consider cutting back on these activities as well. To learn more you can also read the CMCH webpage What We Need To Know About Media And Kids Health.
If you have any further questions or would like to update us on what you find after your experiment, please feel free to write back to FX. In addition, the CMCH website has Ask The Mediatrician, where you can ask Dr. Michael Rich, the Director of CMCH, any questions you may have about media and health.