Science! Why Listening to Sad Music Makes You Feel Better

How many times have you turned to sad, melancholy music whenever you’ve felt down? Interesting how that makes you feel better, doesn’t it. But why? Science seeks to explain this weird effect. Tom points to this post at Science Alert:

A new study sheds light on what’s going on inside our brains when we match our music to our feels, and it looks like sad music can be enjoyable – rather than simply depressing – because it triggers positive memories that can help to lift our mood.

The study – conducted by researchers at Durham University in the UK and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland – analysed three large-scale surveys, covering 2,436 people in total, and found that there was a wide spectrum of responses to wistful songs.

But three key responses stood out in particular: pleasure, comfort, and pain. Often these reactions were triggered by happy or sad memories recalled by the music, according to the researchers.

Psychologist Adrian North from Curtin University in Australia – who wasn’t involved in the new study – says there are two groups of possible explanations for why we enjoy listening to sad music like this: one from social psychology, and one from cognitive neuroscience.

In terms of social psychology, one way of thinking about this is that we feel better about ourselves if we focus on someone who’s doing even worse, a well-known process known as downward social comparison. Everything’s going to be okay, because Thom Yorke is having an even worse day than you are.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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