Sad music might actually evoke positive emotions reveals a
new study by Japanese researchers published in the open-access journal
Frontiers in Psychology. The findings help to explain why people enjoy
listening to sad music, say Ai Kawakami and colleagues from Tokyo University of
the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan.
Kawakami and colleagues asked 44 volunteers, including both
musicians and non-specialists, to listen to two pieces of sad music and one
piece of happy music. Each participant was required to use a set of keywords to
rate both their perception of the music and their own emotional state.
The sad pieces of music included Glinka's "La
Séparation" in F minor and Blumenfeld's Etude "Sur Mer" in G
minor. The happy music piece was Granados's Allegro de Concierto in G major. To
control for the "happy" effect of major key, they also played the
minor-key pieces in major key, and vice versa.
The researchers explained that sad music evoked
contradictory emotions because the participants of the study tended to feel sad
music to be more tragic, less romantic, and less blithe than they felt themselves
while listening to it.
"In general, sad music induces sadness in listeners,
and sadness is regarded as an unpleasant emotion. If sad music actually evokes
only unpleasant emotions, we would not listen to it," the researchers wrote
in the study.
"Music that is perceived as sad actually induces
romantic emotion as well as sad emotion. And people, regardless of their
musical training, experience this ambivalent emotion to listen to the sad
music," added the researchers.
Also, unlike sadness in daily life, sadness experienced
through art actually feels pleasant, possibly because the latter does not pose
an actual threat to our safety. This could help people to deal with their
negative emotions in daily life, concluded the authors.
"Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or
harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even
enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion
evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative
emotion," they added.