Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Affect-Incongruency in Emotional Responses to Music

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Affect-Incongruency in Emotional Responses to Music

Article excerpt

The appeal of expressively sad music has long been a topic of fascination among scholars, in large part because it ostensibly contradicts the hedonic principle: Why would people willingly expose themselves to sounds that express suffering? Wouldn't this merely provoke or heighten personal feelings of distress (Levinson, 1990)? On consideration, this paradox may be largely, if not fully, resolved by considering the myriad ways in which sad music, like other forms of expressively sad media, may be rewarding to listeners (Sachs, Damasio, & Habibi, 2015; Taruffi & Koelsch, 2014). For instance, sad music may be aesthetically pleasing, with beautiful melodies and harmonies, rich timbres, and artfully resolved tensions (Huron, 2006; Vuoskoski, Thompson, McIlwain, & Eerola, 2012). It may allow individuals to empathize with the composer or performer, providing valuable insight into the human condition (Oliver & Raney, 2011) or enable favorable comparisons between the listener's own plight and that of the musician, whose grief is captured in song (Zillmann, 2000). Listening to sad music may also help individuals prepare themselves emotionally for social interactions in which sadness would be normatively appropriate, such as a funeral or hospital visit (Martin, 2001; Oliver, 2008).

Other hypotheses regarding the appeal of sad music lend prominence to its potential role in mood repair. For example, it has long been argued that listening to sad music may be cathartic for individuals in sad affective states, helping them to purge themselves of sorrow by expressing their painful feelings more fully (Taruffi & Koelsch, 2014). It has also been suggested that sad music fosters the sense among individuals in sad affective states that the composer or performer can relate to their feelings, thereby making them feel less alone (DeMarco, Taylor, & Friedman, 2015). In a similar vein, sad songs may contain lyrics that help individuals in states of sadness gain insight into the loss they have experienced and/or provide them with clues regarding how to cope (Oliver, 2008; Taylor & Friedman, 2015). An extensive recent qualitative study by Van den Tol and Edwards (2013) found that when asked to describe their own motivations for listening to self-identified sad music, participants listed most of the reasons detailed above and additionally emphasized the use of such music as a "memory trigger" that would help them recall and reexperience episodes in their lives, particularly those that involved significant others whom they missed and wished to feel close to again (see also, Eerola, Peltola, & Vuoskoski, 2015).

A number of recent studies have provided evidence consistent with the notion that sadness breeds an affinity for sad music. For instance, Lee, Andrade, and Palmer (2013) presented participants with a set of hypothetical losses (e.g., losing someone you love; failing an exam) and asked them to choose whether they would prefer to hear expressively cheerful or sad music following each of these sad life events. Participants overwhelmingly believed that they would opt to hear expressively sad music in the aftermath of such events, especially if they involved the loss of a significant other. Research using lab-based affect inductions in place of hypothetical judgments has also appeared to support the notion that "misery loves company" in terms of music choice. For example, Chen, Zhou, and Bryant (2007) induced sadness in participants by showing them a clip from a documentary about the personal lives of soldiers who were killed in combat in Iraq. Afterward, during a brief music-listening session, participants were asked to freely choose from a set of popular songs that had been pretested to be either expressively happy or sad. Results revealed that participants in sad affective states were at least initially inclined to select affect-congruent music, although the tendency generally diminished over time. More recently, Hunter et al. …

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