Beautiful but sad music can help people feel better when they are a bit blue, according to new research.
Psychologists at the universities of Kent and Limerick investigated the effects of what researchers described as self-identified sad music (SISM) on people's moods, paying particular attention to their reasons for choosing a piece of music when they were experiencing sadness, and the effect it had on them.
The study identified a number of motives for sad people to choose a particular piece of music they perceived as "sad" but found that in some cases their goal in listening was not necessarily to enhance their mood.
Choosing music identified as "beautiful" was the only strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement, the researchers found.
As part of the study, 220 people were asked to remember an adverse emotional event they had experienced and the music they listened to afterwards which they felt portrayed sadness.
It followed earlier research from the same team which said that people choose to listen to sad music when they are feeling sad.
Annemieke van den Tol, lecturer in social psychology at Kent's School of Psychology, said the factors influencing music choice were memory triggers for a particular event or time, its perceived aesthetic value which involved the person choosing music they consider to be beautiful, and music that conveys a particular message.
She said: "We found in our research that people's music choice was linked to the individual's own expectations for listening to music and its effects on them."
"The results showed that if an individual had intended to achieve mood enhancement through listening to sad music, this was in fact often achieved by first thinking about their situation or being distracted, rather than directly through listening to the music chosen."
When a person chose music with the intention of triggering memories, this had a negative impact on creating a better mood.
She said: "The only selection strategy that was found to directly predict mood enhancement was where the music was perceived by the listener to have high aesthetic value."
The research, called Listening To Sad Music In Adverse Situations: How Music Selection Strategies Relate To Self-regulatory Goals, Listening Effects And Mood Enhancement is published in The Psychology Of Music.