A new study published in the journal PLOS One and conducted by researchers at the Free University of Berlin in Germany found that listening to sad music evoked feelings of nostalgia, peacefulness, tenderness and wonder.
“For many individuals, listening to sad music can actually lead to beneficial emotional effects,” the researchers, led by psychologist Liila Taruffi, report. “Music-evoked sadness can be appreciated not only as an aesthetic, abstract reward, but [it] also plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.”
Nostalgia was the most common emotion associated with listening to sad music, not surprisingly, since we know that listening to music can take you back to a time and place long ago.
The study also found that people tend to listen to sad music when they’re feeling sad themselves, though the music doesn’t make them sadder. Instead, it helps regulate their mood. Researchers conjecture that this information could be useful in understanding how music therapy helps treat certain conditions.
“Thus, from a therapeutic perspective, one could reasonably interpret a patient’s decision to select sad music as, apart from an aesthetic preference, an indicator of emotional distress. This might be useful especially in children or adults with autism spectrum disorder or alexithymic individuals, who have a reduced ability to express their emotions verbally,” the researchers said. “By ‘tuning’ their emotions with the ones expressed by the music, patients may feel heard and understood, even in the absence of a specific emotional vocabulary. This empathic connection between the music and the patient may help to relieve distress and to progress in therapy.”