Sad music as a means for acceptance-based coping




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Peer reviewed



Self-identified sad music (SISM) is often listened to when experiencing sad life situations. Research indicates that the most common reason people give for listening to SISM is “to be in touch with or express feelings of sadness”. But why might this be the case? We suggest that one reason people choose to listen to sad music when feeling sad is to accept aversive situations. We tested if SISM is associated with acceptance coping and consolation. We hypothesized that SISM relates to acceptance-based coping via the recognition and identification of emotional states, and that people will report more acceptance from SISM than self- identified happy music when seeking consolation. In Study 1, participants recalled how happy or sad the music sounds that they normally listen to for consolation, and if they listen to this music to gain acceptance of negative moods and situations. In Study 2, participants reported their goals when listening to sad music during a recalled time in which they experienced an adverse life situation and whether this lead to acceptance. Study 1: People reported that they were more likely to listen to sad music than happy music when seeking consolation, though they preferred happy music in general. Listening to SISM (but not self-identified happy music) when seeking consolation was associated with acceptance of both a negative situation and the associated negative emotions. Additionally, seeking to deal with emotions was associated with both SISM listening (for consolation) and acceptance. Study 2: Listening to SISM to get in touch with and express affect was the most important self-regulatory strategy (of six examined) through which acceptance was recalled to be achieved. Experiencing adverse situations or seeking consolation, people report that listening to SISM is associated with acceptance coping (through the re-experiencing of affect). Implications for music therapy and theories of emotional coping are discussed.



sad music, coping, acceptance


Van den Tol, A., Edwards, J. and Heflick, N.A. (2016) Sad music as a means for acceptance-based coping. Musicae Scientiae, 20 (1), pp. 68-83


Research Institute