Traditional neurobiological theories of musical emotions explain well why extreme music such as punk, hardcore, or metal—whose vocal and instrumental characteristics share much similarity with acoustic threat signals—should evoke unpleasant feelings for a large proportion of listeners. Why it doesn't for metal music fans, however, is controversial: metal fans may differ from non-fans in how they process threat signals at the sub-cortical level, showing deactivated responses that differ from controls. Alternatively, appreciation for metal may depend on the inhibition by cortical circuits of a normal low-order response to auditory threat. In a series of three experiments, we show here that, at a sensory level, metal fans actually react equally negatively, equally fast, and even more accurately to cues of auditory threat in vocal and instrumental contexts than non-fans; conversely, we tested the hypothesis that cognitive load reduced fans' appreciation of metal to the level experienced by non-fans, but found only limited support that it was the case. Nevertheless, taken together, these results are not compatible with the idea that extreme music lovers do so because of a different sensory response to threat, and highlight a potential contribution of controlled cognitive processes in their aesthetic experience.

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