Study Proves That Metalheads Aren’t Boneheads

Research at British university disproves stereotype of metal fans as poor students.

If the ancient Greek philosopher Plato were alive today, would he be a Mastodon fan? Would Sigmund Freud have been into the work of Danzig? Might Mozart have been down with Lamb of God?

Perhaps, according to the findings of a recent study.

The research — conducted by Stuart Cadwallader and Jim Campbell of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England — shows a disproportionate number of students enrolled there listed heavy metal as their favorite kind of music.

As part of their research, Cadwallader and Campbell surveyed more than 1,000 students between ages 11 and 18. The school’s student body of 120,000 ranks among the brightest 5 percent of youngsters in all of Britain, suggesting that metalheads aren’t necessarily boneheads.

“There is a perception of gifted and talented students as being into classical music and spending a lot of time reading,” said Cadwallader, a psychologist who presented the findings to the British Psychological Society on Wednesday. “I think that is an inaccurate stereotype. We are looking at a group with lower-than-average self-esteem that does not feel quite as well-adjusted. They feel more stressed out and turn to heavy metal as a way of relieving that stress.”

Cadwallader further suggests that those who listen to metal often appreciate the “complex and sometimes political themes” contained within the music. “It has a tendency to worry adults a bit, but I think it’s just a cathartic thing,” he said. “It does not indicate problems.”

Students were asked to describe their families, attitudes toward education, hobbies and media preferences. They were then asked to rank their favorite genres of music, and the researchers discovered that rock was the most popular form of music, closely followed by pop. The study unearthed differences between the types of music young people like and their attitudes: Those who dug metal seemed to have lower self-esteem, as well as “difficulties with friendships and family relationships.”

Some of the students, according to the study, claimed to utilize metal to cope with the pressures that come with their intelligence level; the punishing sounds of heavy metal can help these students deal with their frustrations and anger.

“Perhaps the pressures associated with being gifted and talented can be temporarily forgotten with the aid of music,” offered Cadwallader. “As one student suggests, perhaps gifted people may experience more pressure than their peers and they use the music to purge this negativity.”

Cadwallader acknowledged that the findings challenge prior research about the types of people who’d be into, say, Ozzy Osbourne or Iron Maiden.

“There is literature that links heavy metal to poor academic performance and delinquency, but we found a group that contradicts that,” he explained.

Still, it’s rather hard to imagine Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking rockin’ out to Opeth.

Recommended listening for some of history’s greatest minds:

» Mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya: the Red Chord, the Dillinger Escape Plan

» Social philosopher Confucius: DragonForce, Dir en Grey

» Novelist Leo Tolstoy: Cannibal Corpse, Judas Priest

» Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: Necrophagist, Manowar

» Painter Leonardo da Vinci: Lacuna Coil, Ephel Duath

» Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla: Strapping Young Lad, Killswitch Engage (the band Tesla is not metal!)

» Philosopher Immanuel Kant: Carcass, Gojira

» Astronomer Galileo Galilei: In Flames, Black Sabbath

» Physicist Marie Curie: Arch Enemy, Testament

For more heavy-metal goodness, check out the feature “The Greatest Metal Bands of All Time.”