A new study published in the journal Emotion found that depressed people who listen to sad music are — in defiance of what was previously thought — not trying to wallow in sadness and negative feelings. In contrast, the sad music appears to calm, and in some cases, even cheer them up.
Research participants consisted of 38 female undergraduate students with diagnosed depression and 38 female undergraduate students who do not suffer from the diagnosis.
In the first part of the study, both groups of participants were asked to listen to what is normally considered sad music, such as ‘Adagio for Strings' by Samuel Barber and ‘Rakavot' by Avi Balili. They were also asked to listen to happy, upbeat tunes and neutral-sounding music and pick what they would prefer to listen to again. Those who were depressed were more likely to choose the sad music to listen to again than non-depressed people.
However, when asked by researchers why they preferred sad music, the majority of clinically-depressed people said that the sad tunes were relaxing and soothing.
During the second part of the study, participants listened to 84 pairs of 10-second clips of various types of high energy, low energy and neutral instrumental film music. Participants were asked to outline how the music made them feel and what they would like to listen to again. Results revealed that people who were depressed were much more inclined to listen to low-energy music because they felt happier — not sadder — when listening to such tunes.
Although the study did not outline the exact reasons why depressed people prefer low-energy music, the results do not come as a big surprise to the researchers, as serious music can be comforting and appropriate in times of sadness, according to the report.
According to the study, a preference for sad music among depressed people "may reflect a desire for calming emotional experience rather than a desire to augment sad feelings."