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The effects of music on the psyche tantalize many.

Why does a certain song make you feel good or not so good?

Not so long ago, I wrote about a study that attempted to define the 10 most uplifting songs in the world.

There were no Beatles songs. Queen's Don't Stop Me Now was the world's happy champion, however.

Now, a University of South Florida study offers an astonishing insight into why depressed people gravitate toward sad music.

Sadness and depression are a very real part of life. They affect work performance, just as much as they affect your relationships. 

I suspect there are now more people who wear headphones at work than don't. They use those headphones not merely to shut out others, but to manipulate their own feelings.

In 2015, scientists at Yale and the Hebrew University concluded that severely depressed people preferred to listen to music that was a downer. The researchers offered that this was an attempt, subconscious or not, to prolong their sad state.

The University of South Florida researchers weren't so sure. They asked 76 female participants (depression occurs twice as often in adult women than in men), half of whom had received a depression diagnosis, to perform two tasks.

In one, they were played happy, neutral and sad music and asked which was their preference.

In the other, they were given a choice of music from the beginning.

The result? Depressed people did, indeed, prefer sad music. (Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings was one of the pieces played.)

What's fascinating, however, was the reasoning. 

It isn't because they wanted to feel more sad and wallow in their misery.

Instead, the researchers say, they felt better listening to the sad music. They appreciated its low energy levels. 

It made them feel more relaxed.

Jon Rottenberg, who directs the USF's Mood and Emotion Lab, explained to WUSF

It seemed unlikely to us that depressed people want to feel sad. I mean, depressed people are trapped in this kind of paralysis. Their mood state is extremely unpleasant. They go to therapy and they say, 'I want to snap out of this.'

He explained that depressed people's preference for sad music was pronounced.

Clearly, this was a relatively small-scale study whose conclusions would need further research.

It does, though, point to two aspects of the human mind that should never be forgotten.

One is that the upbeat and loud doesn't necessarily signify mood-enhancement and positivity.

The other?

It's rarely worth making assumptions as to why people do certain things or why, indeed, something might make them feel better or worse.

The seemingly obvious and logical might not be the actual.

Published on: May 4, 2019
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