An investigation of empathy in male and female fans of aggressive music

Aimy Slade*, Kirk N. Olsen, William Forde Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Concerns have been raised that persistent exposure to violent media can lead to negative outcomes such as reduced empathy for the plight of others. The present study investigated whether fans of aggressive heavy or death metal music show reduced empathic reactions to aggression, relative to fans of non-aggressive music. 108 participants who self-identified as fans of heavy or death metal, classical or jazz music (n=36 per group) were presented with vignettes that described a primary character’s reaction (the ‘aggressor’) in response to a secondary character’s irritating action (the ‘instigator’). The aggressor’s reaction was either non-aggressive, mildly aggressive or strongly aggressive. After each vignette, participants provided ratings of state empathic concern (other-oriented empathy) and personal distress (self-oriented distress). They also completed measures of trait empathy, passion for music and its psychosocial functions. Fans of heavy or death metal exhibited lower trait empathic concern compared with classical and jazz fans. However, only male heavy or death metal fans exhibited lower state empathic concern than male classical and jazz fans. Finally, social bonding was a stronger motivation for heavy or death metal fans to listen to music than for classical fans. Results are discussed in light of research and public concern regarding the effects of long-term exposure to media violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-211
Number of pages23
JournalMusicae Scientiae
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


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