For many of us, music is a source of escapism. It provides an emotional way to express oneself. Most of all, it has the ability to enhance or alter our given mood. Thus, when an individual is dealing with despair, they might use music as a way to cope. It has previously been said that music usually induces a pleasant emotion, despite whatever tone the music itself may actually be in (Peltola). However, can listening to gloomy music while being in a depressed state lift us up or induce more despair?
According to a study found in the Journal of Consumer Research, people tend to prefer sad music when they are experiencing a deep loss, such as an end to a relationship (Chan Jean Lee). So why listen to melancholy music, when we can listen to more upbeat happy music to make us feel better? How does doubling the sadness take us out of the down mood? In a study conducted at the University of Durham, a large-scale survey with responses to wistful music was completed. The responses included feelings of pleasure, comfort, and pain (Eerola). This is due to the fact that these reactions are generated from positive or negative memories recalled by the music.
Psychologist Adrian North provides insight into the possible reasoning behind this. He explains two probable hypothesis within the idea of social psychology. He identifies the first as a downward social comparison (North). This means that individuals may feel better about their circumstances when they focus their attention on someone who could have it worst. The second hypothesis is that individuals may enjoy listening to music that matches their current circumstances because they connect better to it. Socially, they use music to bring comfort to themselves. North also explains the general biological factors. He explains how listening to melancholy music leads to opiate release which gives the listener pleasure (North). According to this understanding, music regardless of genre will bring upliftment to an individual. However, this is not always true.
The influence of music on mood produces conflicting emotional experiences. In the same study conducted at the Durham University, it was also found that there are individuals who could experience negative feelings and grief when listening to sad-induced music (Eerola). Therefore, the effects are more complicated than thought out to be. Every depressed individual will respond differently to the music they are listening to, based on how they interpret the emotions of the song. One should keep caution when listening to sad music as it can be either elevating or induce more grief.
Eerola T, Peltola HR., (2016) Memorable Experiences with Sad Music: Reasons, Reactions and Mechanisms of Three Types of Experiences. PLoS ONE 11(6), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0157444
Lee, C., Andrade, E., and Palmer, S. (2013). Interpersonal Relationships and Preferences for Mood-Congruency in Aesthetic Experiences. Journal of Consumer Research 40(2), 382-391. doi:10.1086/670609
North., A. (2014). Why Do We Like Sad Music. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/why-do-we-like-sad-music-34879
Peltola, HR,. and Eerola, T. (2016) Fifty Shades of Blue: Classification of music-evoked sadness. Musicae Scientiae 20(1), 84-102