A series of two studies published in Evolutionary Psychological Science suggest that people from harsher environments – encompassing poor health, education, and wealth – are less likely to engage in artistic activities relating to delayed gratification due to unaffordability of resources.
“We know that humans produce arts including music. Music making is a costly activity, demands time and other monetary resources for training and production. We were intrigued by the question why and how human music production is varied across populations and cultures,” said study author Farid Pazhoohi, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia.
“We know that ecological and social factors can influence human behavior and decision making. To answer our question, we used metal music, because compared to other genres, metal and its subgenres are well-documented and there are available comprehensive databases for this music. There are also well-defined variations and diversity within this genre that allowed us to pursue the questions we were interested in – relationship between ecology and musical intensity.”
In 2018, Pazhoohi’s team tested whether metal music production and preference were associated with pathogen and disease prevalence.
“According to parasite stress theory of sociality, in an environment where there is higher prevalence of diseases, people are more conservative and less open to new ideas, because it would be adaptive to avoid interaction and contact with [out-group members] to reduce transmission of parasites,” explained the researcher. “We suggested and showed (in 2018 paper) that in regions with lower pathogen stress individuals are more open to new musical experiments, and also societies in these regions are more tolerant to such endeavors. We speculate secular arts are not allowed in such regions because the society is more conservative in its values, and therefore, there might be more instances of censorship of such arts.”
“In our opinion metal music is the epitome of extreme music in tempo, style and the associated culture, expressing social and political nonconformity. These [qualities] made metal music a good candidate for pursuing our hypothesis – the relationship of parasite stress and openness to a deviant artistic subculture. And finally, our own familiarity with this music helped us to better formulate the data and the analysis. We also mentioned in the paper that metal concert cancellations are higher in countries around the equator.”
“However, the scope of our 2018 study was limited to European countries which are known for high socioeconomic values. So, we decided to test our hypothesis using a broader sample with more diversity (the US states in Study 1, and world countries in Study 2), as well as through the lens of life history approach, in addition to parasite-stress theory.”
Study 1 referred to measures of metal bands, population (from US Census Bureau), Human Development Index (HDI; from Global Data Lab), and parasite stress for each state. Parasite stress per state was obtained from Fincher and Thornhill’s 2012 study, with higher scores indicating higher parasite stress. Metal recording labels and metal bands per state were obtained from Encyclopaedia Metallum, following the same methodology of Pazhoohi and Luna’s 2018 research. Study 2 expanded the target population to world countries, with the research team obtaining population and HDI metrics per country from the United Nations database.
“So, we showed that both life history and parasite stress are predictors of music production (i.e. the number of bands and labels). In other words, our study suggests that individuals from harsher environments (including poorer health, education and wealth) are less likely to be able to afford resources to engage in artistic activities that include delayed gratifications; while in contrast those individuals from safer environments or affluent societies (better education, health and wealth) can successfully produce more arts.”
He added, “Also, our results refute a previous proposal that associates creators and consumers of metal music to social deviant behaviors.”
With regard to study limitations, Pazhoohi noted, “we did not consider artistic appreciation, but rather artistic production. It means our study cannot explain the preference for art and music preference.” For example, it could be the case that individuals from safer and harsher environments have the same appreciation for the arts, with the latter population being less likely to afford producing such arts.
“Also it should be noted that the scope of our research is limited to metal music, and future research could use other genres of music or even other artistic categories such as literature, paintings, etc.”
“Overall, our results provided evidence suggesting that artistic endeavours are more likely to emerge and excel where the society is safer and more affluent,” the researcher told PsyPost.
The study, “A Life History Approach to Artistic Endeavours and Production: the Case of Metal Music”, was authored by Farid Pazhoohi, Karlos Luna, Walter F. Bischof, and Alan Kingstone.