Sad Music And Movies Soothe Relationship Problems, Study Finds

Break-ups and rejection make people reach for a downbeat aesthetic experience.

Break-ups and rejection make people reach for a downbeat aesthetic experience.

Sad music and gloomy movies help to soothe the pain of relationship problems, research finds.

People having difficulties in their personal relationships are more likely to choose tearjerker dramas and downbeat music.

This is unusual, because sad people usually prefer fun comedies and upbeat music to turn their mood around.

However, there is something about experiencing relationship problems, such as a break-up, that makes people want similar emotional companionship.

The study’s authors write:

“Consumers seek and experience emotional companionship with music, films, novels, and the fine arts as a substitute for lost and troubled relationships.”

In one experiment, people recalled an experience involving a loss.

For some it was a relationship loss, for others it was an impersonal loss, like losing a competition.

Those who thought about losing a competition wanted to be cheered up with happy music.

But, those who thought about losing a relationship wanted sombre music.

The authors write:

“Emotional experiences of aesthetic products are important to our happiness and well-being.

Music, movies, paintings, or novels that are compatible with our current mood and feelings, akin to an empathic friend, are more appreciated when we experience broken or failing relationships.”

Another experiment showed that people preferred angry music when they were frustrated by being interrupted, or someone being late.

In other words, a personal hassle made people want negatively valenced music.

However, people who experienced impersonal hassles, like a loss of internet connection, wanted upbeat music to take their mind off it.

So, sadness caused by other people makes us yearn for similar aesthetic experiences.

Maybe this is because being rejected by others makes us crave emotional companionship, which sad music and movies provide.

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research (Lee et al., 2013).


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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

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, 2013) and several ebooks.