ICMPC Poster: Musical Intensity in Affect Regulaton: Interventons in Self-Harming Behavior

In partial fulfillment of my graduate thesis, this poster represents the findings of my study conducted at the University of California, San Diego. Presented July 5, 2016 at the 14th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in San Francisco.

For full study, see chapter 2 of my thesis.

For PDF, see HERELD poster ICMPC.


Prior research associates listening to heavy music with reduced suicide risk, especially among teenage girls when utilized for vicarious release. Nevertheless, few studies consider the active use of heavy music in self-regulation for those who suffer from thoughts of self-harm and/or mental illness. In order to to better understand the mechanisms by which engaging with heavy and intense music may circumvent self-harming behavior, a pilot study is presented of 283 subjects. The majority of those surveyed report suffering from thoughts of self-harm or mental disorders. To examine the use of affect regulation via both generic (non-specified) and heavy, intense, and highly emotive music, we created the Music in Affect Regulation Questionnaire (MARQ), utilizing music in mood regulation (MMR) strategies from the work of Saarikallio. We identify heavy music by the presence of capacious, distorted riffs; loud, pervasive percussion; or an overall feeling of ‘raw power,’ emotion, and affective intensity stemming from the instrumental or vocal parts. Our findings collectively show that heavy music listeners (and those who have thoughts of self-harm, in particular) interact with definitively heavy, intense, or highly emotive music differently than with generic music, especially in the use of modulating negative mood. These findings seem less related to genre-specific categories than certain musical commonalities collectively understood as intensity, and provide significant evidence for heavy music’s ability to circumvent self-destructive impulses, especially when applied in tandem with specific listening strategies of affect-regulation. Additional evidence from prior case studies further suggests the value of deeper investigation of the conscientious use of heavy music as a potential intervention for those suffering from affect dysregulation and self-harm.


Musical Intensity in Affect Regulaton: Interventons in Self-Harming Behavior

Help Fund My Thesis Research in Music, Mind, and the Brain

1511649_10100770379146070_1472478529_oHello all! Sincerest apologies for the severe lack of content over the past year or so. I have been tucked away studying music and psychology at UCSD, and who knew: grad school can be time-consuming! Luckily, I’m unwaveringly passionate about what I have been privileged to research, and I’ve enjoyed…well, many moments 🙂

To come to the point, I’d like to ask a bit of support in order to finish my thesis. In 2011, I received generous support from you all to attend my first conference surrounding music and the brain. Five years later, I find myself again in need of assistance to conduct research in my field. This time, however, your help will fund the final steps for completion of my thesis: broadly approaching how music might be used to combat and intervene in young people who struggle with self-destructive behavior. I have an immense faith in music’s capacity to heal, transform, and even save lives.

Taking place in 3 weeks, I have been invited to participate and present my research in the UK in Epigenesis and Philosophy: A Workshop on the Work of Catherine Malabou. This event brings together scholars in both the humanities and natural sciences. We will engage in critical discussion regarding our work in tandem with the work of the aforementioned French philosopher widely known for her ideas which merge philosophy, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis. Some of you may recall my enthusiasm for her work on plasticity as the catalyst for my decision to pursue graduate studies in how music may be used as a healing tool. I have since been lucky enough to converse with Catherine on a number of occasions, and she remains a primary source of inspiration and critical analysis in the wake of her timely question “What Should We Do With Our Brain?”

As a graduate student, I have been obscenely blessed with a fellowship that allows me to study in a wonderful program. Last year, I was awarded graduate travel stipends that allowed me to present my work locally and abroad. Unfortunately, the financial situation in my department is quite different this year, and it seems what few resources were available have been exhausted. Participation in the upcoming workshop would be a tremendous aid in research for the thesis (which must be completed by May of this year for graduation in June). The budget including air travel, ground transportation, food and lodging comes to around $1,700. 

Funding this vital research not only supports completion of my graduate thesis — it furthers investigation of the transformative healing, powers I believe music can have on the mind. Please consider joining others who have donated here and help us make the largest impact possible.

Give to this research


For information on the types of research I do, please feel free to contact me at dhereld@ucsd.edu or visit any of the sites below:

Abstract – Recovering the Voice Through Sonic Gesture: Contending the Annihilation of Self

Paper – Heavy and Light: Uncovering resilience and positive affect in extreme music

As The Spirit Wanes, or The Hope of Plasticity

Thank you so much for your support!




Note: Pathways in Music is going to go ahead and vehemently endorse this conference. 

CALL FOR PAPERS – DEADLINE: October 20, 2015 12 noon GMT


December 3-4, 2015 • Odense, Denmark

The Performances of Everyday Living Dept. for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark (SDU) at Odense with the support of The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities

Keynote speakers: Rikke Platz Cortsen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark • Theodore Gracyk, Minnesota State University Moorhead, USA • Keith Kahn-Harris, Birkbeck College and Leo Baeck College, UK • Imke von Helden, University of KoblenzLandau, Germany • Florian Heesch, University of Siegen, Germany • Toni-Matti Karjalainen, Aalto University, Finland • Tore Tvarnø Lind, University of Copenhagen, Denmark • Karl Spracklen, Leeds Beckett University, UK.

The research program The Performances of Everyday Living at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) at Odense is pleased to invite paper submissions for presentation at MIND OVER METAL: METAL MUSIC AND CULTURE FROM A CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE, December 3-4, 2015 at SDU in Odense, Denmark. We welcome research presentations that examine metal music and culture from the perspectives of philosophy, musicology, marketing, media studies, medicine, acoustics, theology, literary studies, music pedagogy, semiotics, sociology, linguistics, religious studies, anthropology, psychology, biology, education studies, music therapy, performance studies and culture studies. Exemplification by means of audio-visual material is most welcome. The time allotted per paper will be 30 minutes for presentation and 15 minute for discussion; each speaker will thus be accorded 45 minutes including discussion. An abstract of minimum 350 words/maximum 400 words should be submitted to cmgrund@sdu.dk with “Paper submission for Mind over Metal” on the subject line no later than 12 noon GMT on October 20, 2015. Each abstract submitted will receive double-blind peer review, and you will receive notification of whether or not your paper has been accepted for presentation by 12 noon GMT on October 27, 2015. Papers presented at the conference will be afforded the opportunity for publication in a special issue of JMM: The Journal of Music and Meaning http://www.musicandmeaning.net, provided they pass the double-blind peer review process employed by JMM. JMM is an international peer-reviewed academic online journal published from the Study of Culture at SDU with the support of The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities. Portions – perhaps all – of the conference – will be streamed live online. Attendance at the conference is free; there is no conference fee. All who receive notice that their papers have been accepted for presentation are asked to confirm participation no later than November 1.

We request that all who wish to come to SDU on December 3 and 4 simply to attend the conference (without presenting a paper) register no later than November 19, 2015 by sending an email marked “Registration” to cmgrund@sdu.dk. Information about lodgings, eating establishments and other practical facilities in Odense, as well as updates regarding the conference in general will be available at http://www.soundmusicresearch.org/mom/updates.pdf.

A poster is available at http://www.soundmusicresearch.org/mom/PLAKAT_280915.pdf

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.