By Alyssa Pereira

At first thought, you might suppose that people listen to sad-sounding music for all sorts of reasons.

Ultimately though, as the Free University of Berlin found, those reasons tend to stem back to one thing: nostalgia.

Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch of the University created a 76 question survey for 772 participants (“64% female, mean age 28 years, mostly raised in Europe, Asia, and North America”) to investigate how often people listen to sad music and what sort of emotional reaction they have to it.

It all sounds pretty obvious and straightforward, but as it turned out, it’s actually not. The researchers noted four classes of rewards in the responses: imagination, emotion regulation, empathy, and “no ‘real life’ implications of the sadness”. Basically, sometimes people enjoy being in touch with sadness, as long as they’re not actually sad about a real-life event.

Yep, we all sort of like being sad sometimes.

However, we do listen to sad music when we are actually in emotional distress as well. This so-called “negative emotional state” might be the sort of thing that happens when say, a pet dies, you break up with your significant other, or you get into a fight with a friend. Researchers believe that listening to sad music after these sorts of events provides a sort of consolation.

Now, back to that nostalgia.

When researchers asked participants in their study to select one of nine emotions describing the way they felt after listening to a sad song, the top choice was surprisingly not sadness—it was actually nostalgia (76%). As Boing Boing reports:

The authors suggest that in the absence of a distressing real-life context, listeners can actually enjoy music-evoked sadness because it allows them to better understand its emotional aspects without experiencing the negative consequences. Indeed, listeners reported frequent positive emotions in response to sad music, such as peacefulness, tenderness, and wonder.

(via Boing Boing)


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