London | Sad music can provide enjoyment, comfort or pain to different people, according to a new study which looked at the effects of melancholy songs on the emotions of people. The findings could have implications for how music therapy and rehabilitation could help people’s moods, according to researchers from Durham University in the UK and University of Jyvaskyla in Finland.
They looked at the emotional experiences associated with sad music of 2,436 people across three large-scale surveys. Researchers identified the reasons for listening to sad music, and emotions involved in memorable experiences related to listening to sad music.
The majority of people surveyed highlighted the enjoyable nature of such experiences, which in general lead to clear improvement of mood, researchers said. Listening to sad music led to feelings of pleasure related to enjoyment of the music in some people, or feelings of comfort where sad music evoked memories in others, they said.
A significant portion of people also reported painful experiences associated with listening to sad music, which invariably related to personal loss such as the death of a loved one, divorce, breakup, or other significant adversity in life, researchers said.
The results help us to pinpoint the ways people regulate their mood with the help of music, as well as how music rehabilitation and music therapy might tap into these processes of comfort, relief, and enjoyment, said Tuomas Eerola from Durham University. The findings also have implications for understanding the paradoxical nature of enjoyment of negative emotions within the arts and fiction, said Eerola.
The three types of experience associated with listening to sad music (pleasure, comfort and pain) were found across the different surveys. Experiences of enjoyable sadness were not affected by gender or age, although musical expertise and interest in music seemed to amplify these feelings, researchers said.
Older people reported stronger experiences of comforting sadness, while strong negative feelings when listening to sad music were more pronounced for younger people and women, they said. According to researchers, each type of emotional experience associated with sad music could be connected to a distinct profile of reasons, psychological mechanisms, and reactions.
There seem to be two types of enjoyable experiences evoked by sad music listening. In these instances, music is typically the central source of these experiences, and aesthetic qualities were very much involved in the experienced pleasure, said Henna-Riikka Peltola from University of Jyvaskyla.