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Some of our favourite songs make us sad, which may be why we like them

Pelican Press

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Some of our favourite songs make us sad, which may be why we like them

Why we enjoy songs that make us feel sad is unclear

Klaus Vedfelt

We can love a song despite it making us feel sad — and scientists don’t agree on why.

Researchers have previously found that

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, perhaps through experiencing empathy or appreciating the artistry of the piece. Now, a study has found we might simply find pleasure in feeling the sadness such music evokes.

“I guess part of being human is that we just can’t cope with the idea that there’s something strangely pleasurable about negative emotion,” says

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at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “But what about people who actually just say: ‘Well, the reason I really love this piece of music is because it makes me sad’? Who’s to say that they’re wrong?

Schubert asked 50 people – mostly undergraduate music students – to think about a piece of music they love but consider sad, which included compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven and Taylor Swift. They then answered an online questionnaire about the emotions they felt while listening to that piece.

Next, participants were asked to try to imagine that the sadness in their selected piece of music could somehow be removed. Overall, the participants said this made them appreciate it less, with 82 per cent reporting that the sadness added to their enjoyment.

In another part of the experiment, Schubert asked a separate 53 people — again, mostly undergraduate music students — to identify a piece of music they love and consider “moving”. These participants widely reported feeling sad while listening to the piece, despite enjoying it.

It is possible that the participants are blending the emotions of being “sad” and “moved”, thereby experiencing a direct link between sadness and overall pleasure, says Schubert. They might even be using the words “sadness” and “moving” to describe the same, or a closely related, feeling, he says.


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at the University of Oslo in Norway says the sadness expressed by an artist may trigger the feeling of being moved if the listener experiences empathy. People may also relate to the lyrics of sad songs, helping them to feel less alone in what they are going through and stopping them from bottling up their emotions.

Vuoskoski also questions whether the participants could truly imagine removing sadness from a song without also taking away the sensation of feeling moved. Therefore it may be no wonder that they then imagined enjoying the music less, she says.

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at Durham University in the *** doubts people could “remove” sadness from what is generally considered a sad song. “The whole study rests on an assumption that listeners are capable of perfect dissection of their emotional causes from each other concerning their loved music,” says Eerola, who sometimes collaborates with Schubert, but wasn’t involved in this research.


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#favourite #songs #sad

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