We have all been drawn to melancholic music to feel better at some point in our lives, but why does it help us to double our sadness?
A new study sheds light on what is happening in our brain when we adapt our music to our emotions, and it seems that sad music is fun – and not depressing – because of the positive memories we have. up.
The study, conducted by researchers from Durham University in the United Kingdom and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, analyzed three large-scale surveys involving a total of 2,436 people and found that there were a wide range of reactions to melancholy songs.
But there are three main answers: pleasure, comfort and pain. According to the researchers, these reactions were often caused by happy or sad memories reminiscent of music.
The psychologist Adrian North of Curtin University in Australia – who did not participate in the new study – says there are two possible explanation groups for which we like to hear such sad music: one of social psychology and one of of cognitive neuroscience.
With respect to social psychology, it is possible to think that we feel better when we focus on a person who is less well off, a well-known process called downward social comparison. All will be well, because Thom Yorke has a day even worse than you.
Another hypothesis of social psychology is that people like to hear music that reflects the tone of their current situation. The songs act as a kind of tuning fork for our own situations and resonate with us.
The second set of options that North believes is more compelling is the neuroscience and chemical processes that take place in our minds.
Some scientists believe that melancholic music is linked to the hormone prolactin, a chemical that helps control grief. Essentially, the body is preparing to adapt to a traumatic event and, when this event does not occur, there remains a nice mix of opiates that can not go anywhere else.
Through digitization of the brain, we know that listening to music dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with food, sex and drugs – triggers at certain emotional heights, and it is also possible that we have joy here, melodies sad to hear too.
Another hypothesis is that our mind treats sadness differently when we learn it through art rather than ourselves: think of a film in tears, a poignant song or a tragic painting.
Studies published in 2014 have shown that listeners are often inclined to listen to sad music because of their perceived beauty. The greatest aesthetic appeal of dark melodies was also noted in the new study conducted in the UK and Finland.
This could be related to the link between bad feeling and iconic art creation: some research suggests a melancholy temperament that leads to more attractive works of art, so that art can nevertheless be judged objectively. Sadness seems to make us more focused and diligent, which could hinder listening and musical creation.
One thing is certain: this pleasant sadness is not suitable for everyone. The authors of the new study discovered that some sad melodies were painful and negative for some people, mainly because of the bad memories they had taken away. A dark and depressed soundtrack may not always be the best way to cheer up a friend.