Psychology of Music
This paper seeks to identify and evaluate theories, models and concepts that have been proposed in order to enlighten why individuals seem to like listening to sad music. In seeking to identify such theories, fundamental concepts associated with sad music is clearly elaborated with vital examples in the current music industry. The main question that should be asked is whether there is any pleasure or happiness associated with sad music. The craving for such music reveals one of the most intriguing questions in the world of music studies: Why do people enjoy listening to sad music? What kinds of subjective emotional experiences does sad music induce in listeners? Does the tendency to enjoy sad music associated with particular personality attributes?
Although people tend to avoid negative emotional experiences in general, it is quite ironical that they often enjoy sadness portrayed in arts and music. Many people get enormous enjoyment from sad music such as Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley, Tears in heaven by Eric Clapton, Hurt by Johnny Cash, How to Disappear Completely by Radiohead, Losing You by Aquilo, Fade to Black by Metallica, and Breathe Me by Sia among others. Normally the intension of music artist when creating such music is getting audience that can relate with it (Vuoskoski, 2012).
Why Sad Music appeals to many
The paradox behind these appeals has puzzled music scholars for decades. However, there are few empirical studies that have been made to understand the emotions that listeners get while listening to sad music. Several studies have investigated the reasons behind attraction to sad music (Vuoskoski 2012; Chen et al 2007; Garrido 2009; Eerola & Vuoskoski 2010; Schubert 2007; Trainor & Schmidt 2003; Levitin & Tirovolas 2009; Västfjäll 2002; Van den Tol & Edwards 2014; Vingerhoets 2013; Juslin & Sloboda 2010; Witchel 2010). Most studies have sought to get answers on the kind of objective emotional experiences induced to the listeners of sad music (Deckers 2015; Gabrielsson & Bradbury 2011; Brattico et al, 2011, Trainor & Schmidt 2003; Levitin & Tirovolas 2009 ). Recently, many scholars are seeking to establish theories on increased preference to sad music as compared to happy music. However, majority of investigations on the topic have mainly been limited to general and philosophical discussions (Chen et al 2007, Vingerhoets 2013; Van den Tol & Edwards 2014; Vingerhoets 2013). Many studies have focused on the reason why majority of people like watching sad contents get attracted to art works based on major tragedies.
According to Witchel (2010), “music frequently ex-presses emotional qualities and qualities of human personality such as sadness, nobility, aggressiveness, tenderness, and serenity.” As Strizhakova and Krcmar (2007) suggest, the main objective of music is evoking listener’s emotions. Musical emotions, such as sadness, have been investigated for a long time using instrumental music devoid of linguistic content. However, musical genre such as pop and rock have been popular in their nature of utilizing lyrics to convey emotions (Gabrielsson & Bradbury 2011). Though the affection of music is based on creative composition in the genre, some people values the words rather than the rhythm and melody in the music (Chen et al, 2007).
Music is a creative combination that perfectly imposes such feeling to listeners (Strizhakova and Krcmar, 2007). The uniqueness about music as a form of art and communication is that it creates some sense of shared subjectivity to its audience (Witchel, 2010). Music has often been characterized as a language of emotions (Yang et al, 2007). Listeners are able to identify a few vital emotions articulated by music, mainly happiness and sadness. Some have argued that emotions in music do not correspond to those induced by life events because basic emotions in music are subtler, and do not exactly coincide with those imposed by prototypical life events and lack stereotypical action tendencies (Kawakami et al, 2013)
It is a generally accepted notion in the music world that music, as a composition has the potential to impose emotional response and express emotions in the listener (Yang et al, 2007). The role appraisal actions in the elicitation of emotions is critical aspect in music as conveyed in the two-factor theory of emotions proposed by Schachter and Singer in 1962, and the cognitive-mediational theory proposed by Lazarus in 1966. Sad music, in a rather ironical perspective, creates a space for reappraisal and reflection of personal thoughts, and feelings (Chen et al, 2007). In some cases, music goes as far as making the listener shed tears. This overpowering reaction is based on human behavior and sometime can become super cathartic. Recent study on importance of crying revealed that the human act of crying significantly boost human mood (Van den Tol & Edwards, 2014). The study revealed that one hour after participants sobbed, they reported feeling enhanced than before.
Two researchers, Van den Tol and Edwards (2014) sought to know what people expect to attain when listening to melancholic music, when they are feeling sad. In their findings, they acknowledged that majority of the listeners seek “cognitive reappraisal” of their emotions. In most cases, when people are in sad situation, they tend to choose sad music instead of happy music. As majority argues, listening to happy music makes a sad participant feel emotional disconnect (Vastfjall, 2002). Listeners mainly identify with the emotions articulated by music, or the meaning conveyed by the lyrics (Yang et al, 2007). People seek this kind of emotions with intensions of re-experiencing the same emotions. Another way listeners achieve their intention of cognitive reappraisal is through looking for music conveying a massage they want to relate to (Brattico et al 2011). When a person is sad, the only music he/she can relate to is a sad one. This is because, in a way, the music captures the situation that a sad listener is experiencing at that particular moment.
Some scholars have established that a paradoxical relationship exist between the level of empathetic relationship and degree of enjoyment experienced after listening to sad music (Chen et al 2007; Trainor & Schmidt 2003). According to Witchel (2010), higher empathizers get more emphatic distress when listening to sad music and afterward exhibit greater joy. Sad music, as argued by Brattico (2011), imposes positive feeling, such as tenderness and peacefulness. Sad music has the ability to regulate and control negative emotions and moods, as well as providing consolation to the listeners (Västfjäll, 2002).
In Huston et al (2015) asserts that preference to sad music mainly correlates with personal traits. In their research, they discovered that people who are highly emphatic and open to experience demonstrate an intense emotional response when listening to sad music. For the particular group of people who are undergoing emotional distress, Huston et al noted that this predisposition is one of the mechanisms of self-regulatory strategies aimed at retrieving memories, creating necessary distraction, stirring cognitive reappraisal and re-experiencing effective and social experiences. Self-regulatory is an integrated internal process meant to control desires; behaviors and emotions. Vuoskoski (2012) suggest that sad individuals listen to sad music in order for them to evaluate their situation and even the disposition of their emotions.
Jeong et al (2011) argue that individuals who like listening to sad music while grieving as a result of broken intimate relationship intend to create mood-congruent aesthetic experience. Sad music works as a suitable surrogate for mood-sharing that are normally observed in empathetic relationships (Västfjäll, 2002). It therefore acts as a suitable companion for sad individual who are seeking to have a replacement for the lost personal bond. Other researchers such as Brattico, Alluri, Bogert, Jacobsen, Vartiainen, Nieminen and Tervaniemi (2011) have noted that individuals seek and experience emotional companionship in arts, film, novels, storybooks and music as a necessary their lost and troubled relationships. Thus, sad music and other aesthetic creations that evoke depressing feelings are akin to an emphatic friend.
In most cases, when people meet tragedies or lose their loved ones, they get a feeling of loneliness. In such situation, majority prefers solitude because they feel that many people do not understand them (Garrido, 2009). At such time, they tend to prefer sad music because it resonates with their feelings. Sad music expresses their feelings better, to an extent that makes it a wonderful companion in distressful moments. Some studies assert that sad music softly evacuates inners psychological pain (Van den Tol & Edwards, 2013).
The basis for such powerful universal reaction, especially to sad and happy emotions in music, is mainly rooted in the acoustic features of music (Vingerhoets, 2013). It has repetitively been established that cheerful music is characterized by hasty tempo and major mode, while sad music is normally played in sluggish tempo and minor mode. Slow music, in a way gives listeners sufficient time to reflect on its massage (Juslin & Sloboda, 2010). Majority of the people appreciate slow music unlike fast music because of its accommodative tempo. Several studies have shown that people tend to connect to things when they impose a personal feeling (Yang et al 2007; Witchel 2010; Kawakami et al 2013).
Some studies have revealed that majority of those who experience hedonistic lows while listening to sad music manifest greater hedonistic high after the resolution of sad music (Van den Tol & Edwards 2014; ). Sad music, as established by Vastfjall (2002), makes listeners experience sadness without the actual implication of sadness. The study revealed that those who enjoy listening to sad music experience a high degree of empathy, because in most cases they feel connected to the sadness of the songs ‘artist (Vastfjall, 2002). There is always a reason why people turn a sappy ballad on in their music system when they find themselves in low moods. A study conduct in 2014 by group of scholars and published in the journal PLOS established that listening to sad music triggers positive feeling, such as of peacefulness among the listeners (In Huston et al, 2015). The researchers also discovered that those who tune to sad music in their low moods experience more empathy because in a ways they feel connected to the sad situation of the music artist. It is argued that they get consolation, or receive some consolation and encouragement from the music artist.
Some scholars have tried to identify the scientific ideology behind the paradoxical perspective exhibited by sad music to its audience (In Huston et al 2015; Gabrielsson & Bradbury 2011; Deckers 2015; Brattico et al 2011; Van den Tol & Edwards 2013 ). The paradox is revealed in the sense that the sadder the music appears to the listeners, the better; because it is with the same measure it diffuses the listener tension and moods. When the music appears sadder than the listener’s situation, it in turn makes the listener consider him/her self better than the situation conveyed by the music artist (Van den Tol & Edwards 2013).
It has become a familiar gesture for mourners to listen to sad music in the funeral (Huron, 2011). People like listening to sad music especially when faced with challenging situations such as breakups, tragedies, and physical pain (Vuoskoski & Eerola, 2012). Majority chose to listen to listen to sad music for consolation instead of shedding excessive tears and disturbing friends with melodrama. Trainor & Schmidt (2003) claims that sometimes sad listeners use sad music as a distraction. Sad music mainly have slow tempo that somehow resonates with the heat beat of the listeners, making them more attractive and encouraging concentration (Trainor & Schmidt, 2003). In doing so, the goal of distraction is easily achieved. Though sad music can be used as an effective distraction, excessive attention to sad music, in some cases, can be a sign of avoidance (Brattico et al 2011).
Some scientific researchers have confirmed that listening to music not only makers the listeners feel good, but it also alters the human brain psychologically (Van den Tol & Edwards, 2011). When a person listens to an attractive music, the body responds by producing a surge of dopamine (In Huston et al, 2015). This is considering the “body rewarding system” or the happiness trigger chemical. This is the same chemical that is produced when a person is eating food that are rich in salt or fat, exercise or having sex (Deckers, 2015). The brain, which is normally considered a problem solving engine in human body plays a major role even when listening to music. Mainly, people derive pleasure from solving problem, predicting events, interpreting patterns, solving puzzles and understanding relationships (Witchel, 2010). Music as a microcosm engaged brain through its different kinds of rhythms, patterns, genre, melodies, and harmonies.
In some cases, sad music is used a memory trigger. Majority of the listeners claim that sad music reminds them of past events and situations. However, when sad music is utilize as a memory activator, it is more likely not able to enhance listeners moods. According to Japanese researches Kawakami, Furukawa, Katahira, and Okanoya (2013), sad music can be comforting. They study revealed that unlike sadness cause by real life situation, musical sadness is pleasant because it does not pose actual threat to individuals safety. Furthermore, if individuals are suffering from sad emotions evoked through daily life, then sad music or any other aesthetic products can also impose positive emotions that can make them feel better. A similar study by Levitin and Tirovolas (2009) also concluded that sadness is multifaceted. Whenever distressed people listen to sad music, they get romantic and sad emotions, which later turn to emotions of happiness.
Although sadness in psychological perspective is considered negative and destructive, in the music appreciation it takes a different feature that makes it significant and desirable. A paradoxical relationship between sad music and the pleasure it imposes on its listeners has become a critical concern among many scholars. Many researchers have been conducted top ascertain the essence of sad music in social perspective. This has seen increased number of studies explaining why sad music does not impose sadness but instead boosts happiness among the listeners. Though majority assume that sad music imposes sadness, it is evident through various theories proposed by several scholars that sad music is instead a source of rejuvenation and happiness. As explained in the paper, majority chose to listen to listen to sad music for consolation instead of shedding excessive tears and disturbing friends with melodrama.
Sometimes sad people use sad music as a vital distraction that enable them avoid the situation causing sadness. Sad music mainly have slow tempo that somehow resonates with the heat beat of the listeners, making them more attractive and encouraging concentration. I seem that sad music creates an environment for reappraisal and reflection of personal thoughts, and feelings. The fact that sad music makes listeners experience sadness without the actual implication of sadness is a critical concept that raises the affection of many to sad music. Therefore, it is important to consider the paradoxical application of sad music, not only in the music field but also in psychological field.
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