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'Beautiful but sad' music can help people feel better

Martin Herrema thumbnail By Martin Herrema | 20 February 2014

Psychologists have found that music that is felt to be ‘beautiful but sad’ can help people feel better when they’re feeling blue.

Beautiful but sad music can help people feel better
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Picture by nosha. Licensed under CC BY SA

The research investigated the effects of what psychologists at the universities of Kent and Limerick described as Self-Identified Sad Music (SISM) on people’s moods, paying particular attention to their reasons for choosing a particular piece of music when they were experiencing sadness – and the effect it had on them.

The study identified a number of motives for sad people to select a particular piece of music they perceive as ‘sad’, but found that in some cases their goal in listening is not necessarily to enhance mood. In fact, choosing music identified as ‘beautiful’ was the only strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement, the researchers found.

Dr Annemieke Van den Tol, Lecturer in Social Psychology at Kent’s School of Psychology, explained that the study found that among the factors influencing music choice were its memory triggers for a particular event or time; its perceived high aesthetic value – which involves selecting music that the person considers to be beautiful; and music that conveys a particular message.

The research, titled ‘Listening to sad music in adverse situations: How music selection strategies relate to self-regulatory goals, listening effects and mood enhancement’ is published in the Psychology of Music. It was carried out by Dr Van den Tol and Professor Jane Edwards, of the University of Limerick.

For more information please contact Martin Herrema.

Tags: Research

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