Listening to sad music does not necessarily improve your mood, according to a new study that found people who listen to sad or aggressive music have higher levels of anxiety and neuroticism.
Clinical music therapists know the power music can have over emotions, and are able to use music to help their clients to better mood states and even to help relieve symptoms of psychiatric mood disorders like depression.
But many people also listen to music on their own as a means of emotion regulation, and not much is known about how this kind of music listening affects mental health.
Researchers studied the relationship between mental health, music listening habits and neural responses to music emotions by looking at a combination of behavioural and neuroimaging data.
“Some ways of coping with negative emotion, such as rumination, which means continually thinking over negative things, are linked to poor mental health,” said the main author of the study Emily Carlson, from University of Jyvaskyla in Finland.
“We wanted to learn whether there could be similar negative effects of some styles of music listening,” Carlson said.
Participants were assessed on several markers of mental health including depression, anxiety and neuroticism, and reported the ways they most often listened to music to regulate their emotions.
Analysis showed that anxiety and neuroticism were higher in participants who tended to listen to sad or aggressive music to express negative feelings, particularly in males.
“This style of listening results in the feeling of expression of negative feelings, not necessarily improving the negative mood,” said co-author Suvi Saarikallio, from the University of Jyvaskyla.
To study the brain’s unconscious emotion regulation processes, the researchers recorded the participants’ neural activity as they listened to clips of happy, sad and fearful-sounding music using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Analysis showed that males who tended to listen to music to express negative feelings had less activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). In females who tended to listen to music to distract from