Heavy metal 'a comfort for the bright child'
By Nic Fleming, Science Correspondent
Intelligent teenagers often listen to heavy metal music to cope with the pressures associated with being talented, according to research.
The results of a study of more than 1,000 of the brightest five per cent of young people will come as relief to parents whose offspring, usually long-haired, are devotees of Iron Maiden, AC/DC and their musical descendants.
Researchers found that, far from being a sign of delinquency and poor academic ability, many adolescent "metalheads" are extremely bright and often use the music to help them deal with the stresses and strains of being gifted social outsiders.
Stuart Cadwallader, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, will present the findings at the British Psychological Society conference in York today.
He said: "There is a perception of gifted and talented students as being into classical music and spending a lot of time reading. I think that is an inaccurate stereotype. There is literature that links heavy metal to poor academic performance and delinquency but we found a group that contradicts that.
"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.
"Participants said they appreciated the complex and sometimes political themes of heavy metal music more than perhaps the average pop song. It has a tendency to worry adults a bit but I think it is just a cathartic thing. It does not indicate problems."
The researchers surveyed 1,057 members of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth - a body whose 120,000 student members are within the top five per cent academically in the 11-19 age range.
Asked for their favourite type of music, 39 per cent said rock, 18 per cent R&B and 14 per cent pop. Six per cent said heavy metal and a third rated it in their top five genres.
The heavy metal fans in the study had lower self-esteem and more difficulties in family relationships and friendships.
Mr Cadwallader then held an online discussion involving 19 members of the academy, 17 of whom were heavy metal fans. They spoke of listening to bands including System of a Down, Slipknot, Tool, Dragon Force, Forward Russia and In Flames when they were in a bad mood and using it to work off frustrations and anger.
One student said: "It helps me with stress. It's the general thrashiness of it. You can't really jump your anger into the floor and listen to your music at the same time with other types of music."
Mr Cadwallader added: "Perhaps gifted people experience more pressure than their peers and use the music to purge this negativity."
Dan Silver, assistant editor of the music magazine NME who has worked for Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, said: "Many themes of heavy metal are about alienation. If you have these kinds of feelings there is a lot you can get out of the music and the community of fans who are into it."