Steady on, science: Listening to extreme music can still make you angry

Dillinger Escape Plan - Derek Bremner Photography

Dillinger Escape Plan – Derek Bremner Photography

Last Thursday, I received my faithful biweekly edition of recent research from Neuromusic (Foundazione Mariani). One abstract in particular caught my attention, from the University of Queensland in Australia: Extreme metal music and anger processing. For you scientists/curious general public, here is the abstract, from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience:

The claim that listening to extreme music causes anger, and expressions of anger such as aggression and delinquency have yet to be substantiated using controlled experimental methods. In this study, 39 extreme music listeners aged 18-34 years were subjected to an anger induction, followed by random assignment to 10 min of listening to extreme music from their own playlist, or 10 min silence (control). Measures of emotion included heart rate and subjective ratings on the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS). Results showed that ratings of PANAS hostility, irritability, and stress increased during the anger induction, and decreased after the music or silence. Heart rate increased during the anger induction and was sustained (not increased) in the music condition, and decreased in the silence condition. PANAS active and inspired ratings increased during music listening, an effect that was not seen in controls. The findings indicate that extreme music did not make angry participants angrier; rather, it appeared to match their physiological arousal and result in an increase in positive emotions. Listening to extreme music may represent a healthy way of processing anger for these listeners.

My initial reaction was “Great – I’m glad someone else is joining the research.” Two days later, I began receiving emails/texts/tweets from friends and colleagues as the resulting Telegraph.co.uk coverage invaded the internet. This is when I began to take issue:

At first glance, the headline of “Want to calm down? Listen to Slipknot or Judas Priest, study finds” evoked everything from mild anxiety (I’ve written on both those bands before, and the academic guilt of taking a few days off from thesis writing was strong indeed) to serious skepticism. Even after the great chocolate letdown of 2015, the media seemingly hasn’t learned much about the ethics and potential detriment of click-bait science. As potential benefits of listening to heavy or extreme music is my current research and focus of my forthcoming thesis, I respect quite fully that though potentially warm and fuzzy (or growling, distorted, and occasionally packed with capacious riffs) on paper, it’s just not that simple.

We all know that the most difficult rhetoric from which to discern validity is often that which is filled with both obvious conjecture and truth. Thanks to direct access to the research, some positive elements of the study immediately arise:

  • Strong supporting theoretical literature
  • Very useful summary of previous work
  • Though an understandingly still-controversial idea, they allowed listeners to choose their own music for the intended therapeutic purposes, as opposed to music therapy’s all-too-common ‘one size fits all’ approach (which, ironically, at the same time arguably contributes to the limitations of this study)

These strengths acknowledged, I’d strongly advise caution in depending on general media coverage for the story (or any scientific finding). Even if you get a portion of the story, you’re likely not getting the whole story, and that in itself is often where bunk journalism stakes its claim. Let’s look at some weaker points:

  • Though the results show that extreme music matches and helps to regulate anger, this effect may be particular to fans of extreme music that are not experiencing any symptoms of distress (unless given an anger induction exercise in a sterile lab setting). One only need sit my mother down with a bit of Megadeath to learn that the media headlines are grossly flawed in asserting “In order to calm down, one can just listen to Slipknot.” Believe me – this is not a universal response.
  • Enter David Huron, we don’t typically listen to sad music to feel more sad; we listen to sad music because it is capable of facilitating a type of catharsis (through which I loosely refer to as vicarious/empathetic/intentional listening). The same is possible of upbeat, “happy” music (although deeply subjective a term), and the same is likely of metal. Though arguably important, this is not news to the majority of us.
  • Leading bias. Participants were recruited via an advertisement for a study examining the “potential benefits” of extreme music. Though this may have been accurate, this is fairly largely frowned upon due to the need for objectivism in the scientific method.
  • As my good friend (and expert in all musics heavy and extreme) Troy recently pointed out: Though it seems all aggressive music is heavy, not all heavy music is aggressive. One of the greatest challenges I had in drafting my first paper on extreme music came to exactly that: What specifically constitutes heavy music? As the study seems to emphasize aggression and anger (and the concurrent media certainly bank on it), given the option to self-select musical stimuli, there’s going to be some lyrical and timbral disparity in which of the extreme music is by definition aggressive, and which is not. This should also be taken into account when measuring anger/arousal response.
  • 39 (40 original) participants. Though a great start, it will be good to see further research with a larger pool.
  • As the study points out, “the influence of negatively valenced music on listeners appears to depend on the listening context, their current mood, and moderation by other personality traits.” I need not go into detail here regarding the critical impact context, mood, and personality have on affect and arousal, but as I’ve recently argued, it is vital. Even those with sensory processing sensitivity or misophonia (myself included) will tell you there are absolutely times we could go for some Ne Obliviscaris full blast (I generally feel this way, truth be told). There are also times when a pen dropped two rooms over simply grates on my nerves, extreme music be darned.
  • Though the ‘self-selected music’ didn’t cause an increase of arousal after the anger induction, neither did silence (their one control condition). Conversely, the participant’s heart rates were reduced after anger induction during the silence control.* This poses some pretty hefty problems for a headline suggesting if one desires to “calm down” they should listen to extreme music.

Despite its sometimes rather severe reputation (remember Vance vs. Judas Priest?) there are many potential benefits of listening to extreme or heavy music. Whether or not an immediate reduction in arousal and /or heart rate (aka calming down) is universally, unfailingly one of them is up for debate.

That being said, through working with great organizations such as The You Rock Foundation, I’ve seen firsthand how heavy music can influence, enlighten, and even change people’s lives. Research in music psychology has shown music capable of providing listeners with relief from stress, a heightened sense of self, peace, meaning, solidarity, and community (Christenfeld, 2004; Huron, 2011; Moore, 2013; Shafer, Smukalla & Oelker, 2013). Music, in just the right setting, can also be detrimental. As can video games. Antidepressants. The kitchen sink. Cheese. One would do well to remember that consciousness, responsibility, and intentionality are key when examining the pros and cons of any stimulus or behavior.

So, regarding the outcries of the scientific media, in any regard: let’s all calm down just a bit, and if Slipknot/Metallica/Opeth is your thing – more power to you. If you’re quite content with Brahms/Ligeti/Bebop/Norah Jones – that’s okay, too.

Abstract: Sharman, L., & Dingle, G. A. (2015). Extreme metal music and anger processing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, 272.

*However, there was no significant difference among music listeners between heart rate during Time 2 and Time 3, p > 0.999, indicating that the increased heart rate following the anger induction was sustained for the music listeners, but not for those in the silence condition.

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: International workshop on quantitative and qualitative music therapy research

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International workshop on quantitative and qualitative music therapy research
http://quantitativemusictherapy.weebly.com
October 15, 2015
Barcelona, Spain

Motivation
Music is known to have the power to induce strong emotions and physiological changes. Musical activities have a positive impact in the perception of quality of life and may even improve cognitive, social and emotional abilities. it is not surprising that a variety of clinical conditions are often treated with music therapy. Large scale studies have shown that music therapy produces significant improvements in social behaviors, overt behaviors, reductions in agitated behaviors, and improvements to cognitive problems, However, the positive effects of music therapy are not homogeneous among all studies, and there is often a lack of formal research involving quantitative and qualitative methods to assess the benefits and limitations of music therapy in concrete treatments.

Workshop aims
The aim of the workshop is to promote fruitful collaboration among researchers, music therapists, musicians, psychologists and physicians who are interested in music therapy and its effects, evaluated by applying quantitative and qualitative methods. The workshop will provide the opportunity to learn about, present and discuss ongoing work in the area.  We believe that this is a timely workshop because there is an increasing interest in quantitative and qualitative methods in music therapy.

Submission of abstracts
We solicit 1-page abstracts reporting on quantitative or qualitative music therapy research.  Submissions should include the title, authors’ names, institutions and contact email address. Papers should be submitted in pdf format by email to: musitherapy@gmail.com no later than Friday, July 17, 2015.

Registration
In order to encourage participation, registration to the Workshop will be free of charge. However, the workshop has a limited number of places for non presenters, so please register by sending an email to rafael.ramirez@upf.edu with your name and affiliation.

Information provided by Society for Music Perception and Cognition (biweekly digest).

For more information on qualitative and quantitative methods in music therapy research, please see this post by my colleague.

A bit left of center, but a chance to reach out

Note: My sincerest apologies for veering ever so slightly off topic. However, I humbly remind that extending compassion, love, and hope for healing to those in times of crisis could not be closer to my heart, and is truly my launch-point for all research endeavors. It is with the greatest conviction and empathy that I share this post to any who will listen. Thank you.

bluelighthope

I have a friend, just younger than myself. We will call her Sophie.

I met Sophie ten years ago, through a church I was attending when I lived in Washington State. Sophie was a shy, beautiful girl, who wore a lot of black and a lot of timid smiles. She loved music to the extent that it radiated from her being. Her eyes sparkled, and continue to do so a decade later.

If Sophie had undergone trials in her life up to that point, they could not begin to preview what this young woman has had to endure since then. Maybe, choices were made along the way that could have prevented one or two of the hundreds of trials she would face. And maybe not. I, for one, have made many mistakes along the way, and though experience may be one of the most brutal and effective of teachers, not all mistakes can be rectified. If Sophie has even once chose option C when option A might have been best, I empathize most fully and emphatically.

Over the past decade, this bright young girl has suffered from crippling anxiety. Abuse. Hunger. Poverty. Sadness. Homelessness. She is also one of the strongest, sweetest, and most resilient women I’ve ever known.

I do not know what it feels like to wonder where I’m going to sleep. I can’t empathize with fearing for my life, and the life of my children. I cannot say, in good conscience, that I know what it’s like to be starving. To truly feel that vacant, desperate feeling of anxiety from sleeplessness, hunger, and fear.

Many of you know I am a passionate researcher for music in the intervention of mental health. Some of you know that I am blessed with the ability to travel, and even begin to present some of my work. Sophie, with her patient listening, sharing of experience, and feedback, has been tantamount to the forming and shaping of the current direction of my research.

Though my family has known trials, and I have not been exempt from a couple of life’s cruel realities, I have been blessed with supportive and loving friends and family members. I am lucky enough to know some of her family, and I am confident that when they are able to assist, they do. I give you my word that this young woman is worthy of love, and worthy of support. We all are.

I know how the homeless are treated in Seattle. I’ve been there, and I’ve worked the shelters. They can be wonderful resources, but they are underfunded and overcrowded to the point that there are wait-lists. Until she is allowed a safe, healthy solution, she is asking for help to remain at the local campground.

I know from experience that one of the most difficult things in life can seemingly be to reach out and ask for help when it is needed. Sophie has taken the courage to do so, and it is with this little post that I now take the courage to echo her words: if you can, please help. This is not a permanent situation, but at the moment, it is the situation. If you are able to help, please do. And from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

http://www.gofundme.com/rnrcqs?fb_action_ids=10152659338052471&fb_action_types=og.shares&fb_ref=undefined

Springfest 2015: UCSD Music Festival Premiers Live Performance Art, Synthesizer Petting Zoo, Music Psychology Panel and More

SF

Springfest 2015 is the annual showcase of UC San Diego Department of Music’s emerging composers, instrumentalists, and electronic musicians. From April 7-11, concerts will take place every afternoon and night at the Conrad Prebys Music Center and on April 7th and 9th at The Loft (UCSD). On April 19th, Springfest travels to the Birch Aquarium for their annual Immersion event.

Since its founding in the late 1960s, the UCSD Department of Music has been a world leader in experimental music of all stripes, boldly charting the future of jazz, classical, multimedia, and electronic music genres.

SpringFest 2015 begins April 7th at 7:30pm at The Loft (UCSD) with improvisations and new compositions and innovative jazz works. From April 8th through April 11th, there will be two to four performances daily at the Conrad Prebys Music Center featuring masterworks of the late 20th century concert repertoire by Kurtag, Lang, Reich, Scelsi, and Stockhausen, music by UC San Diego’s very own alums Nicholas Deyoe and Edward Hamel, small group improvisation at the aggressive fringe of jazz and popular music, and unprecedented alloys of performance art, sound and media, including investigations of music of the speaking voice (4/9), the experience of motion through music (4/10) and the collision of music and theater (4/11). On April 11th, Springfest hosts an interactive “synthesizer petting zoo,” where audiences can get their hands on the Audio Electronics Club’s handmade music hardware and software, synthesizers, and effects processors.

Reprising last year’s spotlight event, an immersive walk-through concert/installation at Birch Aquarium in La Jolla on April 19th, will feature live performances spread throughout the aquarium including Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic, a Gamelan Ensemble, sound installations by Tina Tallon, Nicolee Kuester, Jon Forshee, and Tommy Babin, and SEA SOAR and short films by Lyndsay Ellis Bloom with sound design by Caroline Louise Miller. $10 Discounted admission ($8 for UCSD students) for the entire aquarium.

New this year, Springfest will host its first ever panel discussion on the culture of music and affect, From Fragile to Plastique: Confronting the Culture of Music and Affect, curated by Diana Hereld. Additionally, this event includes exploring alternate models for sound presentation, Celeste Oram’s Microventions, 60 second mini-concerts, and Curt Miller and Nichole Speciale presenting two viewings of their sound installation, Polyester.

Admission to all Springfest events on campus are free of charge.

For full event calendar, visit http://ucsdmusic.blogspot.com/

diaspora

Playing a Musical Instrument as a Protective Factor against Dementia and Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Twin Study

Abstract:

Increasing evidence supports that playing a musical instrument may benefit cognitive development and health at young ages. Whether playing an instrument provides protection against dementia has not been established. In a population-based cotwin control study, we examined the association between playing a musical instrument and whether or not the twins developed dementia or cognitive impairment. Participation in playing an instrument was taken from informant-based reports of twins’ leisure activities. Dementia diagnoses were based on a complete clinical workup using standard diagnostic criteria. Among 157 twin pairs discordant for dementia and cognitive impairment, 27 pairs were discordant for playing an instrument. Controlling for sex, education, and physical activity, playing a musical instrument was significantly associated with less likelihood of dementia and cognitive impairment (odds ratio [OR] = 0.36 [95% confidence interval 0.13–0.99]). These findings support further consideration of music as a modifiable protective factor against dementia and cognitive impairment.

For our Italian friends:

Crescenti evidenze sperimentali suggeriscono che suonare uno strumento musicale sia positivo per la salute e lo sviluppo cognitivo dei giovani, invece non è stato stabilito se possa esercitare un effetto protettivo contro la demenza. In questo studio gli Autori indagano l’associazione tra il suonare uno strumento e lo sviluppo di demenza o declino cognitivo in una popolazione di gemelli. La capacità o meno di suonare uno strumento è stata dedotta dalle informazioni personali ottenute dai gemelli, mentre la diagnosi di demenza è stata verificata usando i criteri diagnostici standard. Tra 157 gemelli discordanti per lo sviluppo di demenza, 27 coppie erano discordanti anche per l’aver suonato uno strumento musicale. Controllando per sesso, educazione e attività fisica, la capacità di suonare uno strumento era associata con una ridotta probabilità di demenza e disagio cognitivo (odds ratio [OR]?=?0.36 [95% intervallo di confidenza 0.13-0.99]). Questi risultati supportano la possibilità di considerare la musica come fattore protettivo contro demenza e declino cognitivo.

M. Alison Balbag, Nancy L. Pedersen, and Margaret Gatz, “Playing a Musical Instrument as a Protective Factor against Dementia and Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Twin Study,” International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 2014, Article ID 836748, 6 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/836748

Copyright © 2014 M. Alison Balbag et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Music and Diaspora

Call for Submissions:

The Spring/Summer issue of SEM Student News (Volume 10) will center on the theme of Music and Diaspora. As the term “diaspora” has been both problematized and defended, substituted and accepted, in Volume 10 we hope to engage in the issues and current trends of diaspora music studies, broadly defined. Please take the time to think about submitting or if you know a colleague another student who might be interested in this topic, encourage them to do so.

We are currently accepting submissions for Volume 10 in the following capacities:

– original photography related to topics of the issue

– student submissions (c.150-200 words) for our “State of the Field” column [discussing personal experience and research strategies on the topic]

– student articles/editorials (c. 500-750 words)

– professional submissions either for our “Dear SEM” column (c. 250 words) or individual editorials (c. 500-750 words)

Those planning on submitting a piece, please contact the editor at semstudentnews@gmail.com. We also welcome any other ideas, comments, and questions. Submissions should be formatted in Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, in author-date style. Files should be submitted in .doc (text) or .jpg (photography) formats. Be sure to include your contact information and university affiliation in your email.

Submission due by March 20, 2015 to semstudentnews@gmail.com

Categorizations of physical gesture in piano teaching: A preliminary enquiry

The following taken from Communicating musical knowledge through gesture: Piano teachers’ gestural behaviors across different levels of student proficiency. (Psychology of Music, SAGE Journals).

Abstract

The significance of the “physicality” involved in learning to play a musical instrument and the essential role of teachers are areas in need of research. This article explores the role of gesture within teacher–student communicative interaction in one-to-one piano lessons. Three teachers were required to teach a pre-selected repertoire of two contrasting pieces to three students studying piano grade 1. The data was collected by video recordings of piano lessons and analysis based on the type and frequency of gestures employed by teachers in association to teaching behaviours specifying where gestures fit under (or evade) predefined classifications. Spontaneous co-musical gestures were observed in the process of piano tuition emerging with similar general communicative purposes as spontaneous co-verbal gestures and were essential for the process of musical communication between teachers and students. Observed frequencies of categorized gestures varied significantly between different teaching behaviours and between the three teachers. Parallels established between co-verbal and co-musical spontaneous gestures lead to an argument for extension of McNeill’s (2005) ideas of imagery–language–dialectic to imagery–music–dialectic with relevant implications for piano pedagogy and fields of study invested in musical communication.

Conclusion

The findings of this study revealed that the instrumental teaching context not only makes use of spontaneous co-verbal gestures, but also avails from a set of gestures, that in analogy to co-verbal gestures have here been termed spontaneous co-musical gestures. Whilst McNeill’s (1992, 2005) spontaneous co-verbal gestures provide a relevant conceptual basis for theorizing the interactional communication between teacher and student, spontaneous co-musical gestures were ubiquitous and an essential element in the process of musical communication between teachers and students. Moreover, teachers were observed as employing both spontaneous co-verbal and co-musical gestures simultaneously and in some cases independently for the achievement of specific music instrumental pedagogical ends.

The strongly significant and moderate effect size of the correlation between teaching behaviour and gesture types suggests that there is a relationship between the didactic intention of the teacher and the forms of gesture they use to communicate information to the student. The nature and effectiveness of this relationship should be a subject of further investigation. Such a step might help in the development of teaching strategies alongside factors such as students’ ages and skill levels.

The communicative parallels established between co-verbal and co-musical spontaneous gestures can have important implications for piano pedagogy and fields of study invested in musical communication by instigating new lines of enquiry, promoting empirically based practical and useful knowledge for practitioners. These findings are specific to the context of the Western classical music tradition and considerations of other musical cultures in which music notation may be regarded differently demand their own specific contextual approaches.

 
Source: Lilian Simones, Franziska Schroeder, and Matthew Rodger

Categorizations of physical gesture in piano teaching: A preliminary enquiry

Psychology of Music. January 2015 43: 103121, first published on October 8, 2013 doi:10.1177/0305735613498918