How Beautiful but Sad Music Helps People Feel Better

A research published in the Psychology of Music on the effects of Self-Identified Sad Music (SISM) – effects and the reasons why people tend to choose a particular piece of music when they were experiencing sadness, was conducted to detect sad people’s motive for tagging a particular piece of music as ‘sad’ and others ‘beautiful’, and the effect the two have on them.

In the study, 220 people were asked to recall an adverse emotional event they had experienced, and the music they listened to afterwards which portrayed sadness. It followed earlier research from the same team that identified that people do choose to listen to sad music when they’re feeling sad.

Dr Annemieke Van den Tol, Lecturer in Social Psychology at Kent’s School of Psychology found that the factors influencing music choice were its memory triggers for a particular event or time; its perceived high aesthetic value – which involves selecting music that the person considers to be beautiful; and music that conveys a particular message.

We found in our research that people’s music choice is linked to the individual’s own expectations for listening to music and its effects on them.

The results showed that if an individual has intended to achieve mood enhancement through listening to ‘sad’ music, this was in fact often achieved by first thinking about their situation or being distracted, rather than directly through listening to the music chosen.

Indeed, where respondents indicated they had chosen music with the intention of triggering memories, this had a negative impact on creating a better mood.

The only selection strategy that was found to directly predict mood enhancement was where the music was perceived by the listener to have high aesthetic value.’

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