The Effects of Music Genres on Aggression

Luke Harbison, MaryDrew Collier, Hunter Andrews,  and                    Alice Chandler (Advisor: Dr. Buchholz)

Background Information

Why are people inclined to form mosh pits at heavy music concerts (Thrash, Death Metal etc.) but wouldn’t at something like a Barry Manilow concert? Do various genres have respectively different effects on human emotions and behavior?  Prior research studies have investigated these questions with findings supporting the supposed answer. Some studies show heavier music made subjects more likely to report negative feelings while other studies demonstrated that songs with negative lyrical content can make people report a higher frequency of aggression (Shafron & Karno, 2013; Anderson & Carnagey, 2003). In this study, we predicted the conditions of aggressive music (Drowning Pool-Bodies) or soft music (Claude DeBussy-Clair De Lune) would produce different results of aggression levels, specifically a greater level when listening to aggressive music compared to soft and no music conditions. Our study specifically focused on state aggression rather than trait aggression, while also taking gender differences into account (male, female) to look for possible interactions. The key aspect of this study revolves around examining participant’s current aggression levels.  By examining the participants’ current levels, we should gather results on the immediate effect music has on a person.


Our study was conducted entirely online. We created a survey on the website Qualtrics and received our participant pool by providing class credit for people in introductory-level psychology courses through a website called SONA. The survey respondents listened to one of three music clips: clip 1 being no music, clip 2 being Clair De Lune by Claude DeBussy, a representation of soft music, and clip 3 being Bodies by Drowning Pool, a representation of aggressive music. Respondents then answered questions related to their current emotional state, particularly how aggressive they felt. Results were put into a Jamovi where it was analyzed. In addition, we also asked respondents to tell us their gender (male and female) so we could look for possible interactions. We had two other gender selections (prefer not to say, non-binary) but they were not used in the analysis.

Results and Discussion

In order to evaluate the effects of gender and music genres on aggression, a 2 (male/female) x 3 (no music, easy listening, and aggressive music) between-subjects analysis of variance was conducted. There were 15 questions related to aggression and 5 related to negative feelings in general. Our analysis found that there was no difference in aggression level across the three groups. We did find a difference between men and women but it was not found to be significantly different. Additionally, we found no interaction between the main groups.

We anticipated that there would be significant findings, but our results show the likelihood of no change in aggression level being present.  However, other potential factors are present including the music clips being too short or respondents not paying attention and rushing through the survey. Although females reported higher levels of aggression, this could be affected by other factors that weren’t accounted for. While we did not have any significant findings, this information could benefit future researchers who want to examine aggression and its relationship to music. If this study were to be conducted in the future, we could potentially lengthen music clips and control the setting of where the survey is being taken at. Ultimately, we found no strong evidence that aggressive music poses a difference in state aggression in comparison to no music and soft music.

Figure 1. The effects of music genres on aggression.

Figure 2. The effects of gender on aggression.

Figure 3. The interaction between gender and music genres.


Based on this study’s findings, we can conclude that our hypothesis was not supported. In examining the possible reasons for this, we determined there are multiple possibilities. The phenomena of mosh pits may be related to other factors such as drinking and the influence of people being around other people who are all in a highly stimulating environment. Additionally, our study had flaws that could result in missing the real effect that could be present. Our findings do not firmly guarantee that no effect occurs, conducting a different study could potentially identify it. Another important piece of information that we learned was how complex the process of creating a study, getting the study approved, gathering respondents, and compiling data all truly was. Going forward, researchers in the fields of musicology and the behavioral sciences may be able to use our research to examine the phenomena of music genres on behavior even further than us.


Anderson C.A., Carnagey N.L. (2003). Exposure to Violent Media: The effects of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and feelings. Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 84(5), 960-71. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.5.960

Shafron, G.R., & Karno, M.P. (2013). Heavy metal music and emotional dysphoria among listeners. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2(2), 74-85. doi: 10.1037/a0031722.