Study: ’80s Heavy Metal Fans Have Matured Into Responsible Adults

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According to Pacific Standard, a recently published study has found that 1980s heavy metal fans “were significantly happier in their youth, and better adjusted currently” compared to their peers who preferred other musical genres, and to a parallel group of current college students.

Research in the 1980s suggested that young “metalheads” were at risk for poor developmental outcomes. No other study has assessed this group as adults; thus, we examined 1980s heavy metal groupies, musicians, and fans at middle age, using snowball sampling from Facebook. Online surveys assessed adverse childhood experiences, personality, adult attachment, and past and current functioning in 377 participants. Results revealed that metal enthusiasts did often experience traumatic and risky “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” lives. However, the “metalhead” identity also served as a protective factor against negative outcomes. They were significantly happier in their youth and better adjusted currently than either middle-aged or current college-age youth comparison groups. Thus, participation in fringe style cultures may enhance identity development in troubled youth.

“Despite the challenges of adverse childhood events, and other stressful and risky events in their youth,” the researchers write, former metal aficionados “reported higher levels of youthful happiness” than peers with other musical tastes as well as today’s college students. “They were also less likely to have any regrets about things they had done in their youth.”

In fact, those who focused on types of music outside of heavy metal “sought psychological counseling for emotional problems more than any other group, indicating a less happy and fulfilling perspective on their 1980s adolescence.” Perhaps, then, Tipper Gore and company were focusing their concern on the wrong kids.

Most importantly, the researchers found “no statistically significant group differences in life experiences or current functioning” between the groups they examined. “This suggests similar developmental trajectories and adult functioning” between former metal fans and their less-rebellious counterparts.

“Social support is a crucial protective factor for troubled youth. Fans and musicians alike felt a kinship in the metal community, and a way to experience heightened emotions with like-minded people.”

Full article, titled “Three Decades Later: The Life Experiences and Mid-Life Functioning of 1980s Heavy Metal Groupies, Musicians, and Fans,” can be downloaded for $40 here.

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