Researchers have long believed that the type of music we listen to says a lot about who we are; opening up someone's CD case is like opening a window into their mind. So what makes us choose the music that we do? A study by Rentfrow and Gosling (2003) indicated that our personality, self-view and even our level of intelligence can have a potential impact on our music preferences. Our mood and level of self-esteem has also been shown to influence our tastes. The potential impact, and more notably, the dangers that different styles can have on us, have gotten a lot of attention in the news and the medical profession. Heavy metal, more than any other genre, has garnered the most scrutiny.
Performers like Slayer, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson (among others) have all been the proverbial scapegoat in numerous suicides. Many parents of victims have brought bands to court, claiming that backwards messages (messages heard when music was played in reverse) and blatantly aggressive lyrics were the cause of their children's violence and/or suicide. This was often to no avail, however. Most cases were thrown out, whether it was due to a lack of evidence or the "Freedom of Speech" amendment. Although studies on the potential connection between heavy metal music and suicidal tendencies are still in their initial stages, a lot of interesting data has been uncovered.
Researchers Pirkis and Blood (2001) conducted a review of more than 30 studies that highlighted the potential differences between heavy metal fans and those of other genres. What they discovered was that although most of the research has consistently shown that there is an association between heavy metal preferences and suicide risk, the relationship is not one of cause-and-effect; that is, heavy metal music does not definitively cause people - male adolescents in particular - to commit suicide. The questions that have not yet been answered, according to Pirkis and Blood are these: Does heavy metal music lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior or discourage them? Do individuals who are suicidal find themselves drawn to this type of music, or is there some other aspect that plays a role? Studies have shown that listening to violent lyrics can lead to feelings of hostility and aggression, but unfortunately, more research is required in order to consider the results conclusive (Anderson, Carnagey & Eubanks, 2003).
Whether you're a rap-lover, head-banger, or Mozart-hugger, musical preference and personality go hand-in-hand. The potential effects they have on your character and behavior however, particularly in terms of more aggressive music, are still being debated. Nonetheless, like any one of our other tastes, whether it's in food, clothing or choice of friends or partners, musical preference is just another excerpt in the biography of who we are. Canadian rock band Triumph said it best: "Music holds the secret, to know it can make you whole. It's not just a game of notes, it's the sound inside your soul."