• Alyna Ooi

The music, the emotions and our brain

How does sad music affect our brain? Why does it make us emotional? Are we addicted to sad music? Is it bad to listen to sad music?

Just like how the weather affects our mood, music does the same too! Our brain can interpret the music that we listen to and give us a variety of emotions. Music evokes emotions and 'mirrors' our reaction to what the music expresses; sadness from sad music and happiness from happy music. Fascinating how our brain works, right?


What people listen to in music depends on their feelings at that particular moment. For instance, a person that is full of energy and excitement will play music with a strong bass that goes with their mood. On the other hand, a person that is feeling down will play sad music. Nobody would ever listen to happy music when they are sad. Listening to happy music when you are sad seems like a distraction from the sadness but trust me, it will always end up worse than before. As if someone is trying to make you smile when you are annoyed. Sad music is different. It is like an empathetic person that is trying to console you.

Addicted to sad music? Or sadness?

Listening to sad music when we are sad makes us feel more understood. Somehow when we listen to sad songs, it is either the lyrics or the music that hits us right in the feels. When the lyrics speak to us of our experiences and the music conveys the emotions that are similar to ours, we somewhat feel that we are not the only ones that experience sadness, that we are not alone in it. Listening to sad music actually makes us feel better and it reassures us that there is nothing wrong about what we feel. Therefore, this allows us to move on more easily :)

For some people, they like to listen to sad music even though they are not sad. Addicted to sadness? Why would anyone want to risk their mood by being gloomy when they are perfectly fine and in a good mood? Well, happy music is sometimes 'boring'. And this also doesn't mean that people will always want to listen to songs that express happiness.

Sad music also allows people to reflect on their negative life events and make sense of them, triggering the sad memories from past events. Although the listener may experience some sadness while listening, listening to the sad music that helps trigger the process of thinking about past events can help the listener resolve the issue and reach a positive conclusion for them.

Why do we enjoy sad music? People that enjoy sad music have a range of emotions. They have the trait of empathy and are the ones that enjoy the beauty of sad music. The emotional arousal that sad music evokes. Unlike the actual experiences of sadness in our life, the music allows listeners to enjoy an unpleasant emotion like sadness without offering direct harm or danger.

Tricking the brain

I know, the brain is weird, it likes being tricked like mentioned in the previous article. Keep reading though, it gets even better.

When we are sad, levels of a hormone called prolactin increases. The hormone produces a consoling psychological effect suggestive of homeostatic function. It actually contributes to the psychological effects. When we humans grief or respond to any kind of sadness, prolactin produces feelings of tranquility, calmness and consolation. Therefore, this prevents the grief feeling from escalating to a dangerous level.

When we listen to sad music, it seems as if we 'tricked' our brain into thinking that something sad had happened, causing a spike of prolactin without even experiencing any actual feelings of sadness.

Is sad music bad for us?

People that are sad actually crave for an 'escape' from the reality during uncertain times to avoid their troubles and woes. Music plays a big role as it offers a resource for emotion regulation. Sad music enables the listener to disengage from the distressing situation such as a breakup, or someone's death. We feel that the music tells the story for us and it is sort of a relief. The lyrics that resonate with the listener's personal experience can give a 'voice' to feelings or experiences that one might not be able to express oneself.

Different people experience sadness differently, and some people are more susceptible to sadness than others. These differences may be due to many reasons such as past experiences, gender, social and cultural norms etc. While some people listen to sad music to have pleasurable outcomes of enjoyment of cleansing, some people will ruminate over their emotions. People that obsess over their sad emotions by listening to sad music continuously often feel as if they are being forced to focus on unpleasant aspects of life.

Therefore, it is very important for us to know when to draw a line between a natural grieving process and rumination. Rumination is associated with depression and it is definitely not an ultimate goal of a person to ruminate. In fact, our subconscious is the result of the involuntary bias towards negative stimuli where it is a trait that characterizes many mood disorders.

Take care

Listen to sad music whenever you need comfort. It can even act as a shoulder to cry on, but don't ever let yourself ruminate for a long time. Whenever we feel depressed, we must always be careful about the music we listen to. People with depression that listen to sad music can actually be quite dangerous. So, to all of the people with their hidden emotions, it is definitely okay to feel this way. There's always hope and please remember that someone loves you :)

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