Medical Mysteries of Music

Can Listening To Sad Music Actually Make You Feel Better? This Study Says “Yes”

We’ve all been there – you’ve just had a rough day, things aren’t going your way, and the little things seem to keep piling up. Sometimes life is unfair, right? Well, if you’ve ever thrown on a sad song to get on with it and ugly cry those feelings right out, you’ll understand where a recent study in Nature is coming from.

Published late last week, the paper examines the psychophysiology of emotional responses to music. Wait – what now? Let me try again: the study takes a look at how people’s brains and bodies react to music, specifically through chills (like the kind you get up your spine) and good old-fashioned crying.

Study participants were asked to fill out a short survey about how often they had different reactions to music: goose bumps, shivers, feeling like crying, and getting lumps in their throats. The volunteers were divided into either the tears or chills group, and each listened to six songs chosen to evoke those responses – including three songs the participants had personally chosen.

While listening, the volunteers indicated whenever they felt the target reaction for their group (again, chills or tears), and also moved a mouse on a screen to show how much pleasure they got out of those feelings. Each song was also rated after listening based on how intense the participants’ emotional response was, and what the tone of the song was. Researchers also monitored reactions in the volunteers’ heart rates, and kept watch for other signs of physical pleasure.

While chill-inducing and tearful reactions both caused deep breathing and pleasure in the listeners, the songs that caused them were described differently. According to the study’s authors, chill-inducers could be perceived as both happy and sad, while tear-jerkers were just sad – and calmer! The study reads:

“…results show that tears involve pleasure from sadness and that they are psychophysiologically calming; thus, psychophysiological responses permit the distinction between chills and tears. Because tears may have a cathartic effect, the functional significance of chills and tears seems to be different.”

Basically, your body recognizes the difference between chills and tears, and knows to allow chills down your spine, but calm you when you start crying. So when you listen to a sad song that let out those emotions, your body can tell its time to relieve some stress!

Hey, had a bad day? Find a quiet corner and maybe let some stress out:

Mathew Kahansky

Once upon a time, Mat studied journalism. That's how he became Alan's one-time intern and current-time contributor, and the rest is ongoing history - get it? Mat also studied biology and music, so he has a strangely specific knowledge set that doesn't really apply anywhere other than useless fun facts. He currently works for a music tech start-up in Halifax, and is a big fan of the em dash.

Mathew Kahansky has 297 posts and counting. See all posts by Mathew Kahansky

One thought on “Can Listening To Sad Music Actually Make You Feel Better? This Study Says “Yes”

  • thats good news for fans of Steven Wilson.


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