Folks like their songs sad but in good taste

June 09, 1999

Altoona, Pa. -- Most people enjoy sad music as long as they consider it artistically pleasing, according to two Penn State researchers.

"Our data show that folks will listen to music even if it makes them noticeably depressed," says Dr. Valerie Stratton, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Altoona. "They're willing to make this tradeoff, as long as they feel the music has aesthetic value."

"Furthermore, people don't seem to mind emotional side effects as long as they have control over the music," adds Annette H. Zalanowski, associate professor of music at Penn State Altoona. "They can deal with a sad song if they have the option of turning it off."

The researchers conducted a study, using as stimuli recordings of a sad and happy song, along with a sad and happy essay. The songs were Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" version re-written for Princess Diana's death and "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Eat It," a parody of the Michael Jackson bestselling song, "Beat It." The two prose samples were a newspaper report about Princess Diana's death and a humorous skit by comedian Steve Martin on trying to join Mensa.

"We asked the 53 student participants to listen to the songs and essays, sad and happy, and rate enjoyment and aesthetics of each on a scale of 1 to 7," Zalanowski says. "On average, more students enjoyed listening to the sad song more than the happy song, while at the same time giving the sad song significantly higher aesthetic ratings than either the happy song or the essays."

Furthermore, compared to the happy song and essay, the sad song and essay significantly increased depression on an individual level. Nevertheless, the quality of being aesthetic or artistic counterbalanced this negative emotion for those listening to the sad song, say the Penn State researchers.

"Sad music can apparently serve as solace and provides a sense of not being alone in one's misery," Stratton notes.

Stratton and Zalanowski are co-authors of the paper, "The Role of Aesthetics in Enjoying Sad Music," recently presented at the Eastern Psychological Association convention in Providence, R.I.
EDITORS: Dr. Stratton is at 814-949-5289 and at by e-mail; Dr. Zalanowski is 814-949-5296 and at by e-mail.

Penn State

Related Music Articles from Brightsurf:

Seeing chemical reactions with music
Audible sound enables chemical coloring and the coexistence of different chemical reactions in a solution.

Music on the brain
A new study looks at differences between the brains of Japanese classical musicians, Western classical musicians and nonmusicians.

We feel connected when we move together in time with music
Go dancing! A new study conduted at Center for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University, Denmark, suggest that then moving together with music, synchronous movements between individuals increase social closeness.

The 'purrfect' music for calming cats
Taking a cat to the vets can be a stressful experience, both for cat and owner.

Young people putting music to the crisis: the role of music as a political expression
On February 1, 2020, the journal Young is publishing a special issue on youth, music and crisis involving Mònica Figueras, José Sánchez-García and Carlos Feixa, researchers from the Youth, Society and Communication Research Group ( at the Department of Communication.

Music is universal
Exactly what about music is universal, and what varies? Harvard researchers have demonstrated that across cultures, people share psychological mechanisms that make certain songs sound 'right' in specific social and emotional contexts.

Why music makes us feel, according to AI
In a new study, a team of USC researchers, with the help of artificial intelligence, investigated how music affects listeners' brains, bodies and emotions.

The brain's favorite type of music
People prefer songs with only a moderate amount of uncertainty and unpredictability, according to research recently published in JNeurosci.

Watching music move through the brain
Scientists have observed how the human brain represents a familiar piece of music, according to research published in JNeurosci.

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.

Read More: Music News and Music Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to