A recent study suggests that listening to sad music when you’re feeling down doesn’t make you feel worse but actually improves your mood.
The study, carried out by scientists Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch from the Free University of Berlin, asked participants to name the emotions they have experienced when listening to sad music from a given list of feelings, which includes ‘nostalgia’, ‘sadness’, ‘wonder’ and ‘power’. They were instructed to complete the survey individually and, interestingly, in a quiet environment without listening to any music.
The most common feeling described was ‘nostalgia’, followed by ‘peacefulness’ and ‘tenderness’. These feelings belong to the emotional category ‘sublime’ rather than ‘unease’, which is the group that 'sadness' is placed in.
The average number of feelings reported was above three, which suggests that the emotional response we have towards music is much more complex than may often be assumed.
The research also indicated that many people feel they gain specific emotional rewards through listening to sad music. These rewards include imagination, emotional regulation and empathy. This could explain why the study found that people are more likely to listen to sad music when already feeling sad.
Taruffi and Koelsch collected the views of 772 people – 408 from Europe, 364 from elsewhere in the world – through an online survey and published their findings in the peer-reviewed journalPLOS ONE.
As well as responding to the given music, participants were asked to name the compositions they considered to be sad. Among the most popular responses were Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Mahler’s Symphony No.5 and Purcell’s Dido’s Lament.
The authors have suggested that their findings could have implications for the use of sad music within musical therapy, specifically that inducing these emotional rewards may play a positive role in a patient’s wellbeing.