A recent study by Liila Taruffi And Stefan Koelsch has shed some light on why people seem to enjoy indulging in listening to sad music.
The study titled “The Paradox of Music-Evoked Sadness: Online Survey” explores the experience of 772 listeners in both Eastern and Western parts of the world. Surprisingly, it found that listening to sad music resulted in positive effects.
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The research categorized the rewards into four: imagination, emotion regulation, empathy and no "real-life" implications. In other words, sad music draws you into another world of your own creation, lets you figure out how you’re feeling and how you want to deal with it and also lets you know about other people’s sad experiences – thereby granting you a medium through which to empathize. Lastly, all of this comes without any real life repressions for the listener.
According Taruffi, this is not a completely unfamiliar concept as she was inspired by the ancient thought of Aristotle. The Greek philosopher’s two cents on art, which contrasted to the views of his mentor, Plato, was that art was good for society.
The study only reaffirms Aristotle’s belief that through catharsis, society benefits as it has a mechanism in which to deal with negative emotion.
However, the authors do not deny that there are still some unanswered questions about the emotional experience of listeners. The findings show that nostalgia, a bitter-sweet emotion was the most frequent emotion. So is it good or bad? Also, what happens if you listen to really sad music for an extended amount of time?
Clearly, these experiences that come from listening to music – or as Aristotle would have pointed out, any forms of art – are complex and multi-faceted.
Having said that, it’s good to know that when we’ve wallowed into the despair of the likes of Leonard Cohen (or whatever music you would classify as sad), it actually makes us feel better.