They have a reputation for being dark, brooding, angry souls — but a new study says that people who were heavy metal fans in their youth end up better adjusted than their non-metal-loving counterparts.
Published in the psychology journal Self and Identity, the new study, titled Three Decades Later: The Life Experiences and Mid-Life Functioning of 1980s Heavy Metal Groupies, Musicians and Fans, looked at the lives of 377 adults — people who were metal fans, musicians and groupies in the '80s; people from the same era who were not metal fans; and current California college students.
What they found was that the metalheads reported higher levels of youth happiness and were less likely to have regrets about their youth.
The authors, who include psychology professors from California, Texas and Ohio, assert that the sense of community and social support the young metal fans had was actually protective, and helped them develop a sense of identity.
"Fans and musicians alike felt a kinship in the metal community," reads the study, "and a way to experience heightened emotions with like-minded people.”
Interestingly, the study also found that the rates of participants who came from troubled homes was roughly the same across the categories, and that metal fans were no more likely to participate in risky behaviours.
However, metal groupies were more likely to come from broken homes, participate in riskier behaviours and have sex younger. One third of the groupies in the study had also attempted suicide in their youth — which is exponentially higher than the norm.
"Because heavy metal was a male-dominated industry and the men set the rules for the style culture," reads the paper, "perhaps the groupies lacked true individuation and were overly enmeshed in the style culture, losing themselves to the whims of those with more power."
The metalheads reported using alcohol more regularly in their youth compared to the other groups — but as adults, they were no more likely to miss work due to physical or mental health problems.
In fact, the people who listened to non-metal music were significantly more likely to seek psychological counseling and report an unhappy youth.
"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," concludes the study.
"These findings suggest that fringe style cultures can attract troubled youth who may engage in risky behaviours, but that they also may serve a protective function as a source of kinship and connection for youth seeking to solidify their identity development."
The paper does point out one key limitation, however: that metal fans who experienced negative outcomes were less likely to participate in their survey.
Read the full study here.