In general, sad music is thought to cause us to experience sadness, which is considered an unpleasant emotion. So why do we enjoy listening to sad music?
New research led by Ai Kawakami and her colleagues from the Brain Science Institute and Tokyo University of the Arts shows that listening to music that is typically perceived as sad actually evokes positive emotions.
By asking 44 volunteers to listen to sad or happy music and to rate their perception of the music and their own emotional state, the researchers show that sad music evokes contradictory emotions. The study subjects perceived the sad music as more tragic than they felt while listening to it.
Kawakami et al. conclude that sadness experienced through art, which is what they call a 'vicarious emotion', actually feels pleasant, possibly because it is not related to a direct threat to our life or safety.
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00311