Why does listening to sad music make us feel good?

Why does listening to sad music make us feel good?

When you listen to sad music, a song you like, do you feel good? This seems strange, and yet a study puts forward a theory that explains this paradox.

Do you feel good while listening to sad music? If this seems paradoxical, a study puts forward an explanation, which would allow us to understand why this feeling is sometimes sought.

Appreciating sadness, is it possible?

For this work, the researchers brought together 50 participants, composed mainly of undergraduate music students. They themselves chose a piece of music that they liked and that made them feel sad. This could range from classics by Ludwig van Beethoven to modern hits by Taylor Swift. Participants were then asked to imagine if their sadness could be “removed” while they listened to this music – something the majority said they could do.

We know that many people are very good when it comes to thought experiments, so this is a reasonable approach to use and, in the worst case, it should produce no results” explains Professor Emery Schubert, author of the study and member of the Empirical Musicology Laboratory at the School of Arts and Media at UNSW, Australia. After the imaginary removal of sadness, participants were asked whether they enjoyed the piece of music differently: 82% said removing sadness reduced their enjoyment of the music.

Sadness would make music better appreciated

Selon le Pr Emery Schubert, “it is paradoxical to think that you could enjoy something that makes you feel a negative emotion“. Yet, “the results suggest that the sadness felt while listening to music might actually be appreciated and increase pleasure to listen to it. “This research shows the first empirical evidence that sadness can directly and positively affect enjoyment of music.”

Good in his body, good in his head!

Differentiate sadness from emotion

To go further, Professor Schubert and his team asked 53 other participants in a control group to report what type of music they liked and which they considered “moving”. When explaining their choice, they said they felt sad but also moved when hearing the music.

“Previous studies refer to an ‘indirect effect hypothesis,’ meaning that people may feel sad, but they enjoy something else: being moved“, explains the professor “because being moved is a feeling mixed with positive and negative aspects“.

According to the scientist, the results of this study, which need to be confirmed on a larger scale, suggest that being moved and feeling sadness have overlapping meanings. “In other words, being emotional triggers sadness, and sadness triggers emotion” he concludes.

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