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Heavy metal study purports to identify psychological traits of metalheads

by Brett Stevens
November 13, 2013 –

typical_metalheadHere’s the fundamental problem with metal: it’s outsider music. We don’t play by the socially mediated rules that control most of society.

In our society, in particular, these rules are created and enforced through self-image. Want to appear to be a good person? Follow the rules. When you step outside of that, two problems occur.

First, the rest of the herd doesn’t trust you. Second, the people around you may be drawn to you not because of what you do, but because they want no rules. Those who object to some rules join those who reject all rules.

However, this means that you’re valuable. Because you don’t obey the rules, and because rules produce resentments, people want to take what you have and use it for their own purposes.

Specifically, they’re either going to use you as an example of what goes wrong when you don’t follow the rules (subtext: follow the rules, citizen) or they’re going to try to use your “cachet of authentic rebellion” to dress up their bog-standard product so people can feel “edgy” without actually taking any risk.

From the first category, a new study purports to list psychological characteristics of metalheads:

By matching music preference to the personality traits, Professor Swami found that ‘openness to experience’ was a major factor in enjoying heavy metal.

Perhaps more surprising however, was the fact that those with a strong preference for metal were more likely to have lower self-esteem.

Metal heads also had a higher-than-average need for uniqueness, and lower-than-average levels of religiosity.

‘It is possible that this association is driven by underlying attitudes towards authority, which may include religious authorities,’ said the authors of the study.

If this study is like other scientific studies, it’s a laboratory analysis. That means that it is designed to prove a point by using factors that wouldn’t apply in the world. It anticipates an audience for this point of view, meaning that they already agree with it.

For example, this study came from giving a form to fill out to 400 people who had to listen to 10 heavy metal tracks. Usually this means people who needed money paid out by researchers.

Further, we have no idea what the questions were like. For example, a second study found that:

A separate study by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that lovers of heavy metal and classical music have very similar personality traits.

Unlike the Westminster University study, it found that both types tend to be creative, at ease with themselves and introverted.

If self-esteem is measured by extroversion, then introverted people won’t score highly on it.

Furthermore, The Downing/Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that smart people underestimate their abilities, a trait that could be confused with low self-esteem.

My own experience of metalheads is that, much as Black Sabbath wanted to rain darkness and horror upon the “all you need is love” hippie movement, metalheads are realists who distrust the social proposition that social propositions like pacifism, tolerance, love, individualism and buying stuff at Wal-mart will solve our problems.

Society’s social people offer us the idea of Utopia, of a world of love and trust, of peace and equality where everyone’s quirks are tolerated, but metal shows us the darker side of reality where war is our destiny, there is no peace, people are not just judged but ranked by their abilities and degree of realistic behavior, and nothing is tolerated except to be manipulated. It’s the grim realist camp.

On the other hand, metal posits an “other side” to these realizations. When one accepts the nature of reality, one no longer must put up with the obligatory praising of everyone and approval of everything. If metal is a literary character, it’s Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy (as well as his eventual wife, Elizabeth Bennett, who notes in one poignant scene that neither of them perform — a metaphor for act toward social approval — for others).

For these reasons, I wouldn’t get worked up about this study. It’s not nonsense, merely a selective sampling and interpretation. For all we know, they found 400 college students and took out the 20 Slipknot fans and asked them if they saw themselves as winners, would rather be at a party than home with a whole pizza, how often they go to church and whether they consider themselves individuals or “just one of the sheep.” It’s pretty easy to provoke the response you want under such conditions.

On the other hand, this second study unleashes interesting possibilities. Metalheads are like classical fans, and both groups tend to be “creative, at ease with themselves and introverted”? This is more like the reality I’ve experienced.

The article also gently hints that there may be a bit of detail-obsessiveness and tendency toward over-analytical approaches in fans of both genres, name-checking metal’s tendency to subdivide into genres.

Unlike the other study, this Scottish study — which used a broader range of data — found that indie rock fans, not metalheads, lacked self-esteem.

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16 comments

  • fenrir

    Where is the link to the first study? I think you might have shared it before.
    And in my experience with other metalheads, the result matches more the idea that you proposed. I found that people that are as the first study proposes are not, at the end of the day, really into metal. Rather they enjoy some of the aspects that makes some metal bands “cool” in front of others, or the fact that it may get them a spotlight.

    Reply
  • Lord Mosher

    ENCORE! ENCORE!
    See? This is exactly my point! Brilliant articles like these could only be written by a brilliant mind like that of S.R. Prozak!
    For over 15 years he has been writing Metal related articles of the highest caliber and like I said before, his eloquence is superior to any of those so called “academics” that try and fail to deal with the studies of Metal Music.
    I just hope he writes a book someday.

    Reply
  • Madhu

    “However, this means that you’re valuable. Because you don’t obey the rules, and because rules produce resentments, people want to take what you have and use it for their own purposes.

    Specifically, they’re either going to use you as an example of what goes wrong when you don’t follow the rules (subtext: follow the rules, citizen) or they’re going to try to use your “cachet of authentic rebellion” to dress up their bog-standard product so people can feel “edgy” without actually taking any risk.”

    Perfectly articulated! I’ve encountered this – particularly the second tendency – time and time again. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of metal enthusiasts cave in to it, because they’re so unused to even the most superficially ‘positive’ assessment of their subculture.

    Reply
  • Krabapple

    As a little bonus pointer, Openness to Experience is also correlated to intuition. As it is, the value CAN express a lot of stuff… Including risk taking and seeing a scheme and beyond it. Metalheads can therefore be clefted into a similar pair of actors when it comes to those quality releases- we have some ‘open to experience’ folks who represent let’s say an upper echelon of this grouping. They are ‘risk takers’ in an essential way… Sorry if this sounds too categorical, just going for a concept.

    Reply
    1. Krabapple

      Oh and by intuition, I meant the dimension in the MBTI exams. Sorry for lack of clarity- and THIS also presents a slew of issues with method…. But just putting it out there for those interested.

      Reply
  • 1349

    had a higher-than-average need for uniqueness, and lower-than-average levels of religiosity.

    To me, being a metalhead was, from the start, akin to army service or a religious cult. I’m far more religious, by my mental set, than most people around.

    I’ve been mailing you (you?) but you don’t answer. Check your spam folder if you haven’t seen the letters. Or please react if you have seen them.

    Reply
    1. fallot

      What an idiot. People all over the world support Varg and that comments section is probably going to find out. On second thought, it is only huff-po, the people who take them seriously are probably not interested in Burzum for anything except ironic reasons. What I found interesting was that Varg is going to be tried for hate speech in 2014. I guess they found some reason to prosecute him after all…

      Reply
    2. EDS

      Great heads up find! This article by Danko Jones and the study presented here prove why outsiders cannot accurately study metal culture. They miss the mark completely as they look to the Century Media roster and Kerrang magazine as their guide in finding subjects to study. The article by Mr. Danko Jones is indeed idiotic and PC. Whilst the study is only a step up from asking my mother what she thinks some common personality traits are amongst metalheads. Only true Hessians can study metal/Hessian culture.

      Reply
  • fallot

    I dont know what to say to this, the larger study is pretty accurate as far as say, the population of Metal-Archives is concerned. These are your general internet nerd, who treat heavy metal music like they treat videogames, or trading card games. Total superficiality, ridiculous sub-sub-genres (systemizing tendency). A sort of outsider approach to metal, half into it, half derisive. People who study and collect slam death metal. People who collect feminist metal (lol). Suckers for ironic bands that are basically making fun of metal and them.

    Reply
  • Carg

    First study probably identifies “religiosity” with “attending Church”. Most of the properly religious people I know are metalheads, while some of the least religious people I know are Christians/Jews/Muslims. I’d very much like to take back the word “spiritual”, which has had so many awful connotations added to it (cheers, post-hippies); it’s the appreciation of something deeper than this phenomenal world which marks a Hessian amongst a crowd of “metalheads”.

    Reply
    1. fallot

      You give them far too much credit. The identification is more probably just a multiple choice question; 1 to 5 stars, how religious are you? Church attendance might actually be a reasonable technique in comparison.

      Reply
  • HMS

    Great article, I like it when nice thing are said about people like me. We death metal people are nature’s gift to women. Gods among men even. Modest, handsome, intelligent, powerful, tall, deep blue eyes, long beautiful hair, great listeners, considerate, generous, nice boobs, you name it…

    Reply

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