In 2014, a pair of researchers surveyed 772 people to see how they responded to sad music. Can you guess which emotion the music most often elicited?
If you guessed nostalgia, you were correct, as 76% of listeners felt this! Other popular responses included peacefulness (57.5%), tenderness (51.6%), sadness (44.9%), wonder (38.3%), and transcendence (37%).
Many of you have probably had similar experiences—times when sad music actually made you feel better. Researchers have only begun to explore this phenomenon, and in my opinion, this study, featured in the online journal PLOS One, is one of the most interesting investigations into this topic. Let’s look at what researchers learned:
Although it studied a large sample, this research is limited by factors like the self-selection of participants, lack of a control group, and use of a survey requiring recalled findings that could be colored by bias. More research must examine the topics preliminarily addressed here, but the results do seem mostly intuitive and provide encouragement for those who enjoy listening to sad music. So keep up the listening if you’re feeling down, and consider starting with one of the classic pieces most often mentioned by survey respondents: Dido’s Lament by Purcell, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.