Metalhead Teens Grow Into Happy Adults After All

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Since the heyday of ‘80s metal, parents have worried that the evils of metal bands like Iron Maiden will ruin the lives of impressionable teens. In 1987, the U.S. Surgeon General likened the destructive nature of metal on the young psyche to pornography; around the same time, several families sued Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne, accusing the musicians of driving young men to suicide with subliminal messages. 

But according to a recent study, 1980s metalheads have since grown up to be well-adjusted adults, and their affinity for an edgy subculture—Satanic lyrics and all—may have helped. The research, published in the journal Self and Identity, examined middle-aged adults in the context of their teenage musical preferences. The sample of 377 people surveyed the childhood experiences and adult personality traits and income of heavy metal groupies, professional musicians, metal fans, and middle-aged people who didn’t listen to metal in the ‘80s. A group of current college students, meant to represent the general youth experience, served as the control versus the experience of young metalheads. 

All three groups of metal lovers reported being happier as teens than the non-fans or the current college students, and were less likely to regret the things they did at that point in their lives. While metal fans did report greater alcohol use in their younger years, there was no significant difference in life experiences or current psychological functioning between all the groups, suggesting that metal fans have led pretty normal lives. “Today, these middle-aged metalheads are middle class, gainfully employed, relatively well educated, and look back fondly on the wild times they lived in the 1980s,” the researchers write. “These findings suggest that fringe style cultures can attract troubled youth who may engage in risky behaviors, but that they also may serve a protective function as a source of kinship and connection for youth seeking to solidify their identity development.”

There were a few limitations on the study. For one, it was a self-reported survey, and the population wasn’t nationally representative—they were largely recruited through Facebook fan groups, and were mostly “high functioning individuals.” Yet these researchers are not the first to suggest metal can be good for the soul. A 2013 survey of young British metal lovers proposed that “the catharsis afforded by heavy metal may, in turn, help boost self-worth and promote positive self-evaluations among those with otherwise low self-esteem.”

Rock on. 

[h/t: Pacific Standard]