Aggression, Music, and Moshing

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The following report was written as part of my graduate studies in General Psychology. It has not been published anywhere but this site. Please contact me before reusing or reporting this paper.

Course: Social Psychology

Assignment: One-page thought paper on a chapter subject applied to the topic of my choice.

Aggression, Music, and Moshing

Aggression is a form of antisocial behavior that involves intentionally harming someone (Fiske, 2014). It includes instrumental aggression, which involves a form of controlled harming as ends to another mean (such as money or stature), and hostile aggression, which involves “angry, impulsive, and automatic” harming to physically or psychologically hurt someone (Fiske, 2014, p.383). Aggression can also be proactive/initiated, or reactive to anger or threats (Fiske, 2014). Social psychologists study several social artifacts, or human products, that cause aggression, one of most significant being media violence (Fiske, 2014). “Research unequivocally demonstrates that media violence facilitates aggression” (Fiske, 2014, p. 386).

One media-related social artifact that has been intensely studied for its antisocial behavior is so-called “problem music,” which includes hard rock, heavy metal, punk rock, rap, and electronic dance genres (Coyne & Padilla-Walker, 2015). While no one can argue that music has the power to induce intense emotions, whether uplifting or depressing, studies have also shown that listening to aggressive music is related to increased aggression levels (Coyne & Padilla-Walker, 2015). In a study that compared the effects of aggressive tone versus aggressive lyrics, researchers found that aggressive tone without lyrics elicited more aggression that no stimulus at all, but that violent lyrics had the strongest effect on aggression (Lennings & Warburton, 2011).

The core social motive of understanding underlies aggression in that people learn cues and norms as to when it is acceptable (Fiske, 2014). Scripts are cognitive representations, or “habitual programs of behavior” which can “strengthen by rehearsal (mental repetition)” and then be easily retrieved; they are considered normal social behaviors by a person (Fiske, 2014, p. 398). Lennings and Warburton (2011) found that when watching violent music video imagery, these scripts can be primed; in accordance with the General Aggression Model (GAM) theoretical framework used by psychologists, “an individual brings their personality, memories, schemas, cognitions, and emotional tendencies to any potentially aggression-eliciting situation” (p. 795).

One element I find lacking in the above studies is specifics as to how music-induced aggression displays itself. One study used the laboratory hot sauce method for determination of aggression levels, and another used self-reporting (Lennings & Warburton, 2011). One hostile and reactive aggressive tactic that comes to mind is mosh pits and/or slam dancing – the “not-quite-dancing not-quite fighting” form of controlled violence seen at various hardcore music concerts (“Why do people mosh?, 2015). In this scenario, everyone appears to be exhilarated and amenable to the aggressive activities. One frequent mosher explains: “It’s cathartic to express those parts of yourself because they’re often repressed;” another explains “[w]e mosh because we war dance…[t]he human reaction to extreme music is much like the human reaction to extreme consequences, war. In moshing, we simply practice the art of war amongst friends” (“Why do people mosh?,” 2015).

No one can deny that violence and aggression were a part of the human condition long before violent media came to be. One study noted that this music is a reflection of society, which is “…consistent with findings that juvenile delinquents perceived their musical tastes as a reflection of their reality, instead of it being the cause of their delinquency” (Lozon & Bensimone, 2014, p. 215). Furthermore, despite the above evidence of the negative influences of problem music, research also shows positive and protective factors of listening to this type of music (Lozon & Bensimone, 2014). Theories for its popularity focus on how it is used in non-aggressive ways for coping, identity formation, subculture identification, entertainment, and pleasurable emotions (Lozon & Bensimone, 2014). I agree with numerous researchers that an area for future psychological study would be a focus on how so-called problem music is used as an outlet for aggression as opposed to solely a cause of it (Lozon & Bensimone, 2014, p. 215).


Coyne, S. M., & Padilla-Walker, L. (2015). Sex, violence, & rock n’ roll: Longitudinal effects of music on aggression, sex, and prosocial behavior during adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 41, 96-104. doi:

Fiske, S.T. (2014). Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. Inc.

Lennings, H. I. B., & Warburton, W. A. (2011). The effect of auditory versus visual violent media exposure on aggressive behaviour: The role of song lyrics, video clips and musical tone. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(4), 794. Retrieved from

Lozon, J., & Bensimon, M. (2014). Music misuse: A review of the personal and collective roles of “problem music”. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19(3), 207. Retrieved from

Why do people mosh? (July 22, 2015) Retrieved from

hardcore words


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