According to a new study by researchers from the University of Toronto, people prefer to listen to sad music when they are sad. “In fact, music is particularly effective at inducing positive or negative moods in the laboratory, and musically induced moods have notable effects on cognitive abilities,” said lead author Patrick G. Hunter. In their study, Hunter and his colleagues theorized that mood would predict music preference, and that listeners would choose music to match their positive or negative mood state. “We had two predictions of mood congruency, or that ‘misery loves company.’ One was that the typical bias for happy-sounding music would disappear when listeners were in a sad mood (Experiment 1). The other was that the perception of sadness in emotionally ambiguous music (neither happy- nor sad-sounding) would be elevated for sad listeners (Experiment 2).”
The team recruited 48 college students and had them view pictures designed to elicit sad or happy moods. After seeing each picture, they described the picture they saw and reported their mood state. After viewing the happy pictures, the participants experienced increased happiness, even when they subsequently viewed the sad pictures. Next, the participants listened to upbeat and somber music. “Although happy music was preferred to sad music after a happy or neutral mood induction, this preference disappeared after a sad mood induction,” said the team. “Sad moods also increased the perception of sadness in music when the music was not clearly happy- or sad-sounding. In short, the results provided support for both of our ‘misery-loves-company’ hypotheses.” The researchers found that music preference was directly linked to mood, and in particular, happy mood. “Perhaps listeners in an initially happy or neutral mood found sad-sounding music to be unpleasant because it elicited sad thoughts.” They added, “By contrast, listeners in a sad mood would already be thinking sad thoughts, so the effect of the music on their cognitions would be moot.”
Hunter, P. G., Schellenberg, E. G., & Griffith, A. T. (2011, May 30). Misery Loves Company: Mood-Congruent Emotional Responding to Music. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023749
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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