Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Reinvestigating Affect-Congruency in Music Choice: Does Misery Really Love Company?

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Reinvestigating Affect-Congruency in Music Choice: Does Misery Really Love Company?

Article excerpt

How does sadness shape our preferences for listening to expressively sad versus joyful music? According to "classic" moodmanagement theory (Zillmann, 1988a, 1988b), individuals will gravitate toward music that maintains or promotes positive affective experience. As such, those in sad, relative to happy or neutral, moods should be especially inclined to choose affect-incongruent music that will distract them from upsetting thoughts and help restore their good cheer. However, it has been countered that states of sadness may have the very opposite effect on music preference, prompting selective exposure to songs that are congruent with the emotion-eliciting event in terms of their thematic and/or expressive content (e.g., Knobloch, 2003; Oliver, 1993; Zillmann, 2000). For example, after a romantic breakup, individuals may listen to love-lamenting songs, which might help them understand what they are feeling and provide insight into how to cope with their heartbreak (Gibson, Aust, & Zillmann, 2000; Oliver & Raney, 2011). Sad music may also permit listeners to compare their plight with the imagined plight of the composer or performer, making their own troubles seem less unique and thereby less worrisome (Zillmann, 2000). Additionally, individuals may use sad music to help them maintain sad affective states when these are construed as normatively appropriate in a particular social context, such as a funeral or a visit to an ailing friend in the hospital (Martin, 2001; Oliver, 2008). In this way, the choice of affect-congruent, expressively sad music may ultimately promote positive feelings by facilitating emotion regulation.

Experimental Research on Affect-Congruency in Music Choice

In recent years, there have been a number of studies aimed at empirically assessing whether sadness in response to specific life events reliably influences music choice in the immediate aftermath of these events and, if so, whether the pattern of choice may be best characterized as affect-congruent or affect-incongruent. For instance, Lee, Andrade, and Palmer (2013)-and more recently, DeMarco, Taylor, and Friedman (2015)-asked their participants to consider a variety of hypothetical sad life experiences and to indicate what type of music they would prefer to listen to following each of these adverse events. Participants' intuitions regarding their prospective music preferences were clear: They overwhelmingly believed that they would choose expressively sad music in response to sad life events, especially if these involved the loss of a vital interpersonal relationship. However, as countless studies of human judgment have confirmed (e.g., Gilbert, 2006; Loewenstein, 1996), people's intuitions regarding their future preferences often miss the mark, raising the issue as to whether individuals indeed gravitate toward affect-congruent musical fare when induced into states of sadness.

To circumvent such concerns, a number of lab-based studies have experimentally manipulated sadness before assessing music preference. For instance, Knobloch and Zillmann (2002) led participants to experience either positive, neutral, or negative affective states by means of false feedback on an ostensible test of social sensitivity. Afterward, during a short music-listening session, participants were asked to freely choose from a set of popular songs that had been pretested to be either expressively joyful or sad. Results revealed that individuals in negative affective states spent more time listening to expressively happy music than those in positively valent states, offering evidence for affect-inconsistent preference. However, the authors concede that their affect induction may not only have manipulated sadness, but frustration as well, and in a proportion that was unclear (due to the failure to include appropriate manipulation checks). Chen, Zhou, and Bryant (2007) addressed this issue by conceptually replicating Knobloch and Zillmann's (2002) study using a more targeted induction of sadness in which they showed participants a clip from a documentary about the personal lives of soldiers who ultimately perished in the Iraq War. …

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