Brain News You Can Use (August 2013)

By Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D., BCN-Fellow, QEEGT

Can Sad Songs Help You Feel Better?

Have you ever just wanted to tune into a really sad song when you broke off a relationship?

Did your friend tell you that you were just making yourself feel worse and that you should listen to something more upbeat?

A recent study supports your feelings that sad songs actually make you feel better after a breakup. People prefer music based on recent experiences and will choose sad music if they have a broken heart and angry music if they have had a frustrating experience with someone.

Chan Jean Lee, a Ph.D. student at UCLA-Berkley, headed a study where participants were randomly divided into either a friend group or a music group. They were then asked what kind of music or friend they would like after being presented with a list of 12 situations that normally would provoke a negative reaction. In the music group, the participants were asked if they would choose a sad song or a cheerful song after each situation. The participants in the friend group could select between "a funny friend who can help you get rid of your negative feelings" or "an empathetic friend who you can share feelings with you." The results showed that when the negative situation involved another person, as in a breakup for example, the participants most often preferred an empathetic friend and sad songs.

In a similar study, participants were given various frustrating situations and then asked to rate angry music in comparison to joyful or relaxing music. The participants selected the angry music more when they were frustrated by an interpersonal violation such as being interrupted or a friend or coworker always being late. When the situation was more impersonal such as no internet connection or a natural disaster, the participants preferred joyful or peaceful music to help deny or overcome the negative feelings.

Participants in an additional study were asked to write as vividly as possible about a personal loss experience. Half of the groups were asked to write about a time when they had lost an important relationship and half were asked to write about an experience where they had lost an important competition. After that phase, the participants were asked to rate their currents feelings and then rate a list of songs titles by how much they would like to listen to them and if the song would sound cheerful or sad. The findings showed that participants in the noninterpersonal loss had a preference for the cheerful songs and the participants in the interpersonal loss group showed a strong preference for the sad songs.

The author, Chan Jean Lee, states, "Emotional experiences of aesthetic products are important to our happiness and well-being. Music, movies, paintings, or novels that are compatible with our current mood and feelings, akin to an empathic friend, are more appreciated when we experience broken or failing relationships." She continues, "Interpersonal relationships influence consumer preference for aesthetic experiences. Consumers seek and experience emotional companionship with music, films, novels and the fine arts as substitute for lost or troubled relationships."

Title: Interpersonal Relationships and Preferences for Mood-Congruency in Aesthetic Experiences
Author(s): Chan Jean Lee; Eduardo B. Andrade,; Stephen E. Palmer
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, No. 2 (August 2013), pp. 382-391
Publisher(s): The University of Chicago Press

Authors Note: Most relationship losses are normal and the depression and sadness related to them will pass in time with support from friends and family. If the depression does not resolve in a reasonable amount of time, additional intervention may be needed. Grief counseling with a therapist may be advisable to help resolve the feelings of loss and restore a normal mood. More persistent depression may require addition intervention. Neurofeedback has been shown to be very effective for treating depression and can assist in returning mood and relationships to a healthy status.


Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D. has been providing neurofeedback and biofeedback at Neurofeedback Associates Inc since 2000. She previously worked in mental health and developmental disabilities services for 18 years. Dr. Durgin offers the most advanced treatment services in the field in order to offer individualized client centered solutions to improve brain and life performance.

Published in Natural Triad, August, 2013


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