A novel study by Finnish researchers reveals that listening to sad music can evoke genuine sadness in listeners – something that has been debated for decades but not yet reliably proven.
The new study, published on January 30th in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, also reveals that personality plays an important role in our emotional responses to sad music.
Sad music evokes sadness particularly in empathic listeners
In the study, participants listened either to their self-selected sad music or to unfamiliar, instrumental sad music. The emotions induced by sad music were measured as objectively as possible by using indirect measures of memory and judgment.
The self-selected, familiar sad music made all participants sad, while the unfamiliar, instrumental sad music only affected empathic participants.
“There are often sad memories associated with familiar, sadness-inducing music, which may partly explain why familiar music was more effective in evoking sadness in all participants,” explains researcher Jonna Vuoskoski from the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
The contribution of empathy to the sad emotions evoked by unfamiliar sad music suggests that empathic people may be more sensitive to music-induced emotions overall.
“These results may explain why music affects some people more strongly than others,” Jonna Vuoskoski says.
Listening to sad music is enjoyable
Although sad music evoked genuine sadness in many participants, listening to sad music was found to be enjoyable.
“In everyday life, sadness is experienced as a negative emotion, but this is not the case with music-induced sadness. It is an interesting question for further research to investigate why so many people enjoy sad music – and even music-induced sadness,” says Vuoskoski.