Music that makes you cry gives pleasure, new research finds.
This might help to explain the enduring popularity of sad music.
The results come from a study that tested the cathartic effect of sad music.
Participants in the study were divided into two groups based on their responses to four questions:
“While listening to music, how frequently do you (1) get goose bumps, (2) feel shivers down your spine, (3) feel like weeping, and (4) get a lump in your throat?”
The researchers dubbed these the chills group (first two questions) and the tears groups (second two questions).
Then both groups listened to music that invoked their favourite feeling: either the chills or the tears.
The study’s authors explained the results:
“A song that induced chills was perceived as being both happy and sad whereas a song that induced tears was perceived as sad.
A tear-eliciting song was perceived as calmer than a chill-eliciting song.
These results show that tears involve pleasure from sadness and that they are psychophysiologically calming…”
It’s pretty easy to see why music that invokes chills would be pleasurable.
However, the study’s authors were slightly at a loss to explain what is so special about sad music:
“…sad songs induced strong pleasure.
It is difficult to account for why people feel sad music as pleasurable; however, the current results suggested that the benefit of cathartic tears might have a key role in the pleasure generated by sad music.”
One answer could be that music is such an ambiguous form, that it is easy to see your own life reflected in it.
The authors write:
“…listeners could identify with the sad character of the sad song and felt as if the singer knew their own sad experiences, making them feel understood and bringing pleasure…”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Mori & Iwanaga, 2017).