Does Sad Music Make You Sadder?

Experts are challenging the myth that sad music makes us feel worse; when listened to appropriately, sad music may actually bring comfort.

Huron’s team conducted two questionnaire studies to investigate this. For study one, participants were asked to rate how frequently various instruments convey sadness in music.

1. It’s a cathartic release

Researchers have discovered that people who frequently experience feelings of sadness or depression often choose sad music to relax and decompress, such as slower-tempoed sad songs. Furthermore, film and television may have programmed us to associate certain types of instruments – like piano and cello – with being sad.

Theories surrounding why people like sad music include its ability to foster feelings of connectedness between people or its ability to offer catharsis from negative emotions. A study conducted in 2019 suggests that listeners of sad music may identify with its lyrics and find comfort knowing there’s someone they can confide in when feeling down.

Studies have demonstrated that many people experience positive responses when listening to sad music, including nostalgia, sentimentality and even transcendence or peacefulness. This positive reaction can provide an outlet for negative emotions while helping you deal with them more positively.

Sad music may help its listeners feel some closure; according to a 2016 study, people who could identify with the emotions represented in a particular song experienced less sadness after listening.

Scientists speculate that sad music helps individuals to validate their feelings and experiences, providing comfort to those experiencing emotional turmoil. While this may provide temporary respite, it should also be noted that listening to sad songs when feeling down could become an unhealthy pattern of habitual listening.

There is still much to discover regarding why and how musical stimuli is pleasurable, including its relationship to mood and personality. Future research should aim to manipulate mood and personality separately in order to explore which factors have an effect on our affective responses to music. Furthermore, neuroimaging techniques should be employed in order to investigate how the brain processes these stimuli into something pleasurable for us.

2. It helps you process your feelings

Music often connotes happiness, yet we shouldn’t underestimate its ability to impact on various emotions. Studies suggest that sadness is one of the primary emotions conveyed through music; listening to sad music allows us to process negative feelings more effectively while providing catharsis that helps dispel ruminations that could otherwise lead to depression. At the same time, sad music provides us with a sense of belonging which bridges gaps with others.

Researchers have discovered that music’s ability to convey feelings of sadness can be linked to various acoustic features, including pitch-bending, mumbling and dark timbre. According to Huron Anderson and Shanahan’s findings, these sounds elicit emotional responses by creating low levels of energy arousal; which may explain why people often prefer sad music over happy tunes as these latter often distract and interfere with focus and concentration.

Sad music’s appeal lies in its aesthetic qualities: We appreciate its melodies and instrumentations that allow it to express the range of complex emotions ranging from resignation and despair to deep sorrow. Furthermore, its lyrics may remind us of our personal experiences which makes the song all the more endearing.

One reason we enjoy listening to sad music is because it allows us to empathise with other people’s experiences and circumstances, particularly if the lyrics ring true with us – for instance a sad song about breaking up or losing someone can bring back memories from recent experiences as well as providing us with an opportunity for connection and empathy.

As such, it should come as no surprise that we turn to sad music to soothe ourselves when feeling down; however, this should not be used as the only coping mechanism; those experiencing persistent symptoms of sadness should seek professional guidance in order to overcome their condition.

3. It helps you connect with others

People often find comfort in listening to music that speaks directly to their emotions while providing a low level of energy. This may be caused by its acoustic properties – including harmony, melody, rhythm and tempo – as these properties help our brains process what’s being expressed musically. Sadder musical compositions tend to feature lower pitches along with more harmonic elements and slower tempos; contrast is an integral component of music as it allows us to both hear and experience emotion; otherwise if a song becomes all loud or all soft it can become uninteresting and predictable over time.

One reason sad songs can provide comfort is by invoking positive associations of nostalgia, sentimental longing and transcendence – emotions which help connect people who share similar experiences together.

Studies conducted in 2020 demonstrated that those suffering from depression found relief after listening to sad music rather than happy songs, suggesting the music helped connect them with people who shared similar emotional experiences such as breakup or family deaths.

Though everyone’s situation differs, mental health professionals generally advise seeking assistance if you experience symptoms of depression or low mood. If particular types of music exacerbate such feelings, it might be beneficial to try to steer clear of it altogether.

Study results revealed that those able to empathize with those being interviewed reported greater compassion and desired to help. Furthermore, those who could empathize were better at coming up with ways they could assist the person in the video, likely due to sharing an experience such as listening to sad music together. This type of empathy is known as resonance – we can relate with someone’s situation and empathize with their experience by connecting through resonance; hence why being open and honest with others despite disagreeing with their choices or decisions is vitally important!

4. It stimulates the production of dopamine

Research has demonstrated that certain kinds of music can induce pleasurable responses, which may explain why so many people find comfort in sad music. One component is how emotional experience provided by music triggers dopamine release in our bodies – this chemical messenger associated with feelings of pleasure and rewards is one reason many find comfort after difficult or negative events, such as breakup, through listening to favorite sad songs.

Sad music may also trigger feelings in listeners that make them feel closer to one another through emotional resonance. A recent study demonstrated this connection when listeners could identify specific emotions (nostalgia, sadness, transcendence, peace and tenderness) within the piece they were listening to; when these were identified in music they were listening to they reported greater levels of empathy and compassion towards the artist who wrote or recorded it.

Researchers have also discovered that when people ruminate, or become trapped in cycles of negative thinking, they tend to respond with sorrowful and hopeless feelings to sad music. This occurs because ruminating leads to a chemical imbalance in the brain which releases prolactin hormone, helping reduce grief but becoming problematic for those suffering with depression or mental health conditions. Ironically, though listening to upbeat or positive music may trigger prolactin release it also can decrease rumination tendencies.

There are various factors that influence how pleasurable listening to music can be for someone, including personality traits, social circumstances and associations learned over time. Someone who prefers classical music may find upbeat or happy songs more appealing. Researchers have even found that a person’s enjoyment of listening to music depends on how they perceive its quality of performance versus whether or not they consider it beautiful.