What makes a song happy or sad
The band Coldplay is a paradox. Concertgoers get ecstatic even with the saddest numbers. Instead of becoming infected with melancholy, the happiness hormone serotonin inspires the mood. How grief can produce pleasure has preoccupied philosophers for millennia. Even Aristotle puzzled how theater viewers could gleefully watch the demise of a hero. Arthur Schopenhauer recognized something aesthetically particularly sublime in the painful emotions of a tragedy or in the sight of a raw force of nature.
However, not all people are sensitive to the feeling - you love a band like Coldplay or you hate them, there is little in between. A British-Finnish research group has now investigated in an experiment what the enthusiasm for sad music depends on. The music psychologists played sad music to a hundred representatively selected people. The test subjects heard a classically orchestrated piece from the soundtrack of the American TV series "Band of Brothers", which is set in World War II - eight and a half minutes in a solemn minor, a deeply sad piece.
"The connoisseurs are often able to regulate their emotions"
Nevertheless, around one in five people found it particularly enjoyable to listen to them. In these cases, the sounds created a moving emotional cocktail of sadness and positive emotions. The psychologists name these listeners in the study in the specialist journal Frontiers in Psychology "Sadness connoisseur". While they were able to profitably hear the piece, it made many other participants rather nervous or even dejected.
But what is the difference between the groups? To find out, the researchers also used questionnaires to explore the psyche of the participants, including the ability to empathize. It showed that the "sadness connoisseurs" are mostly empathetic above average. Accordingly, they are particularly capable of empathizing with other people and of identifying with others. "These listeners are particularly good at sensing emotions using acoustic signs in music," explains music psychologist Jonna Vuoskoski from Oxford University. Test subjects with low empathy values almost never enjoyed the sad tones.
However, this experiment does not fully explain the Coldplay phenomenon
However, it is crucial for enjoyment to maintain an emotional distance, says Vuoskoski. "The connoisseurs are often able to regulate their emotions very well." It is therefore a balancing act to listen to sad music: On the one hand, those who enjoy it can empathize with the negative messages conveyed, but they do not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by it. Women apparently succeed in this balancing act more often than men: female listeners were more often than average in the enjoyment group.
However, this experiment does not fully explain the Coldplay phenomenon. Because the psychologists chose pieces of music that were as unknown as possible in order to avoid familiar songs stirring up memories and thus obscuring the emotional essence of the music. So if you're wondering why your partner raves about Coldplay, it could also have something to do with singer Chris Martin.
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