Quest: The Brain and Music

The scientific reason why some of us enjoy sad songs more than others

Tuomas Eerola,  Independent

Tear-jerkers such as Adele’s “Someone Like You” frequently top the charts these days, while gloomy classical compositions likeMozart’s Requiem” have moved people for centuries. Both portray and bring about a strong sense of loss and sadness. But our enjoyment of sad music is paradoxical – we go out of our way to avoid sadness in our daily lives. So why is it that, in the arts, themes such as loss can be safely experienced, profoundly enjoyed and even celebrated?

Researchers have long been puzzled about this phenomenon and it’s not until fairly recently that we have started to gain some insight into how we enjoy music. Now, a new study by colleagues and me, published in Frontiers in Psychology, has discovered why some of us enjoy sad music more than others – and it’s got a lot to do with empathy.

Research has already shown that open individuals typically score highly on musical sophistication, while “systemisers”, those with a strong interest in patterns, systems and rules, tend to prefer intense music such as rock and punk.

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