About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy
GOOD is part of GOOD Worldwide Inc.
publishing family.
© GOOD Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Study reveals why people love listening to sad music and it all makes sense now

Isn't it puzzling to notice songs that evoke heartache and gloominess being so loved by people?

Study reveals why people love listening to sad music and it all makes sense now
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Cottonbro

Sadness is an emotion most of us try to avoid. So why do we love listening to sad songs? A recent study by researchers at the University of New South Wales, published in PLOS ONE, sheds light on this paradox.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | pavel danilyuk
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pavel Danilyuk

Sometimes, shedding a few tears can feel cathartic. Whether it's Billie Eilish’s “Lovely” or Aurora’s “Runaway,” sad songs are popular across the internet. Despite their heartache-inducing nature, people adore them.


“It’s paradoxical to think you could enjoy something that makes you feel a negative emotion,” said Professor Emery Schubert, the author of the study from the Empirical Musicology Laboratory in UNSW's School of the Arts & Media. “But this research shows the first empirical evidence that sadness can positively affect the enjoyment of music, directly.”


The study was conducted on a group of 50 undergraduate music students. When they were asked to select their preferred sadness-evoking music, they chose varying items ranging from Beethoven’s classics to Taylor Swift’s hits. “The findings suggest that sadness felt when listening to music might actually be liked and can enhance the pleasure of listening to it,” revealed Schubert.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | ivan samkov
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Ivan Samkov

The participants were asked to imagine the emotion of sadness being removed from the music. Interestingly, 82% of them said that removing the sadness reduced their enjoyment of the music. Explaining the reason behind people’s penchant for sad music, Schubert explained that there could be several biological and psychological factors.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | olly
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Olly

One of these factors, he said, was related to “play.” “Experiencing a wide range of emotions in a more or less safe environment could help us learn how to deal with what we encounter in the world,” Schubert added. Apart from this emotional rehearsal, the reason could be that people enjoy feeling “moved.” Feeling moved is a bittersweet emotion, a mix of sadness and happiness. So, when people listen to sad songs, they feel moved, and not sad actually.

Another round of research was conducted; this time on a group of 53 participants. They were asked to report the music they felt was “moving.” The research indicated that feeling sadness and feeling moved have overlapping meanings for most people. “Being moved triggers sadness, and sadness triggers being moved,” the professor wrote.

This bit about “feeling moved” was also affirmed by previous research which likened this feeling to a “pleasurable sadness,” as is the case with 'schadenfreude.' According to a 2015 research paper, “The Pleasures of Sad Music,' this liking for sad music relates to something called the “tragedy paradox.” The paper highlighted Aristotle’s belief in tragic art as a means of catharsis and purging oneself of negative emotions.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | olly
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Olly

Yet another biological theory behind people enjoying sad songs could be empathy or chemistry. When one hears a sad song, one usually empathizes with the singer’s pain, which releases a flurry of hormones in one’s body, including oxytocin. These chemicals make them feel calm, supported and soothed. 

More Stories on Good