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On a Blue Note : Depressed Peoples' Reasons for Listening to Music


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Research suggests that negative moods may be associated with attraction to negative emotion in music, a finding that runs counter to mood management theory. Despite such evidence, no study has examined how and why people who have clinical depression listen to music. Qualitative thematic analysis was conducted with textual responses from 294 online survey respondents (148 with depression and 146 without depression). Findings revealed that people with depression were more likely to use music to match or reflect mood or to express emotion, while those without depression were more likely to use music for energy and inspiration. Negative emotion in music enabled some to attend to negative emotion, with subsequent dissipation of negative mood. For others, it was connected with negative cognition and a worsening of negative mood.
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Music and Medicine
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/1943862113482143
published online 12 April 2013Music and Medicine
Kay Wilhelm, Inika Gillis, Emery Schubert and Erin Louise Whittle
On a Blue Note : Depressed Peoples' Reasons for Listening to Music
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On a Blue Note: Depressed Peoples’
Reasons for Listening to Music
Kay Wilhelm, MBBS, MD, FRANZCP
Inika Gillis, BPsych (Hons), MPsych
Emery Schubert, PhD, BA, BE, Dip Ed
and Erin Louise Whittle, BA (Hons)
Research suggests that negative moods may be associated with attraction to negative emotion in music, a finding that runs counter
to mood management theory. Despite such evidence, no study has examined how and why people who have clinical depression
listen to music. Qualitative thematic analysis was conducted with textual responses from 294 online survey respondents (148 with
depression and 146 without depression). Findings revealed that people with depression were more likely to use music to match or
reflect mood or to express emotion, while those without depression were more likely to use music for energy and inspiration.
Negative emotion in music enabled some to attend to negative emotion, with subsequent dissipation of negative mood. For
others, it was connected with negative cognition and a worsening of negative mood.
depression, emotion, music, negative mood
Music and Mood Management
Music is an important part of human ex perie nce an d is wi dely
recognized for its capability to alter mood. Huron’s
of evidence of music as an evolutionary adapta-
tion concludes that music is ‘a ubiquitous presence in human
lives’ and that there is evidence for use of music for mood
regulation a nd social bonding g oi ng back thousands of years.
Hargreaves and North
discuss ‘the power of music to act
as a vehicle for feelings which may not be possible to convey
by other means .’ Juslin and Lau kka
conclude that peo-
ple listen to music ‘because of the valued emotional experi-
ences it offers. Music is used to enhance or change
emotions (to relax, to aro use, to comfort) or to evoke emo-
tional memories.’
Research consistently reports mood management and
emotional expression as being the most important reasons for
listening to music.
Mood management theory is based on
the premise that individuals seek to experience the highest
degree of pleasure attainable
and predicts that people will
select media that is semantically dissimilar and opposite to
negative mood states, from an excitation standpoint, and
furthermore has positive hedonic value above that of positive
mood states.
Some studies have supported this premise. For
example, Knobloch and Zillmann’s
study of undergraduate
students found that respondents in negative moods preferred
exposure to highly energetic, joyful music over music low in
these qualities, compared to respondents in positive moods.
Other studies have not supported this premise: Dillman Car-
pentier et al
found that adolescents who consumed ‘fun
media’ did so in order to sustain rather than enhance a positive
mood, while adolescents in negative moods did not display a
tendency to use media to improve their negative moods. Simi-
larly, Knobloch and Zillmann
reported a preference for love-
lamenting over love-celebrating music among romantically
dissatisfied young adults.
The current study aimed to examine the effect of depres-
sion on reasons for listening to music by comparing reasons
givenbypeoplewhowerecurrently depressed with those
who reported no depression history (cur rent or pa st). In
referencing the terms depression and mood, the definitions
are those provided by previous research and the authors’
previous work.
School of Psychiatry at the Black Dog Institute, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW,
Sydney, Australia
Faces in the Street, St Vincent’s Health Urban Mental Health Research Insti-
tute, Sydney, Australia
Empirical Musicology Group, School of English, Media and Performing Arts,
UNSW, Sydney, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Kay Wilhelm, Faces in the Street, Level 6, O’Brien Centre, St Vincent’s Hos-
pital, 394 Victoria Street, New South Wales 2010, Sydney, Australia.
Music and Medicine
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ª The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/1943862113482143
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Music Use in the Context of Depressed Mood
In a recent report of a qualitative study of responses to sad
music, Garrido and Schubert
suggested several patterns of
music choice. Some individuals preferred uplifting music and
avoided sad music. However, others chose to listen to sad
music for a variety of reasons, including (1) to elicit strong
arousal emotion that was both congruent and opposite to their
current mood state; (2) to enjoy the ‘psychological benefits of
catharsis, emotional connection or emotional resolution with-
out the usual attendant pain and displeasure’
enjoy the experience of sad music and to enable grief, elicit
memories, or simply disengage from negative stimuli. Partici-
pants differentiated between adaptive outcomes (that lead to
enjoyment of their mood state or resolution of mood state) and
maladaptive outcomes (that lead to the listener being trapped in
a ruminative state or negative mood). However, these partici-
pants were selected because they had a strong emotional
response to music rather than because they had a prevailing
negative mood.
suggested that there is little written about why
people choose to listen to sad music because there is an
assumption, based on the mood management theory,
people listen to music to maintain or improve their mood. Gar-
rido’s review
concluded that ‘habitual ruminators and
those suffering from clinical or undiagnosed depression appear
to have an involuntary bias towards negative stimuli and there-
fore provide an exception to mood management theory.’ It was
noted that Rentfrow and Gosling
had reported that people
with depression often chose music that maintained their depres-
sive state; however, this study had not considered rumination as
a possible contributor. Chen, Zhou, and Bryant
reported that
participants who were inducted into a negative mood via a sad
television clip spent significantly less time listening to joyful
songs afterward than did those in a neutral mood condition.
Research into the reasons for listening to music has tradi-
tionally utilized the ‘uses and gratifications’ approach,
which respondents describe their motivations for listening to
music in an open-ended format. This approach was utilized
in the current study whereby participants were asked to provide
written responses to an open-ended question describing their
reasons for listening to music. This approach is based on a
number of assumptions: first, that use of media is goal directed
and reflective of the expression of psychological need, as
opposed to chance circumstance where individuals are passive
recipients and, second, that recipients are sufficiently self-
aware to report their interests and motives.
Through surveying a sample of people with depression, the
current study aimed to provide further insight into why people
in negative moods seem to be attracted to emotion in music.
Participants (N ¼ 620) were recruited via the Black Dog Insti-
tute website ( between March and
November 2009. People who accessed the website were invited
to complete an online survey. Initial inclusion criteria were age
over 18 years and the ability to read and write in English. The
recruitment process is shown in Figure 1.
All participants were first asked to indicate (yes or no)
whether they had ever received a diagnosis of depression or
bipolar disorder from a general practitioner or psychiatrist.
Current depression was then measured using the Patient Health
Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9),
a subsection of the PHQ, which
Figure 1. Recruitment flowchart.
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establishes depressive disorders based on 9 items correspond-
ing to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(Fourth Edition [DSM-IV ]) diagnostic criteria. The PHQ-9 has
established criterion, construct and external validity, high inter-
nal reliability (Cronbach a ¼ .89), and a test–retest reliability
coefficient of .84.
A depressed group (n ¼ 148) and a nondepressed (control)
group (n ¼ 144) were drawn from the sample. Group allocation
occurred according to 3 criteria: (1) currently depressed (yes or
no); (2) history of depression (yes or no); (3) history of bipolar
disorder (yes or no). Those with a history of bipolar disorder
were excluded from both groups, given that the focus of the
study was on the effect of depression on reasons for listening
to music, whereas the experience of mania would be considered
to have a different effect. The group with depression included
those who were currently depressed, whether or not they had a
history of depression. The nondepressed (control group)
included those who were not currently depressed and did not
have a history of depression. Participant characteristics (sex,
age, and mean PHQ-9 score) are shown in Table 1.
Analysis and Results
The study utilized mixed methods analysis. Thematic analysis
of textual responses was carried out with QSR NVivo qualita-
tive analysis software, version 9. ‘Thematic analysis’ is
defined by Braun and Clarke
as ‘a method for identify-
ing, analyzing, and reporting patterns (themes) within the
data.’ The aim was to identify themes within the data and to
compare the prevalence of each theme between depressed and
nondepressed individuals. An inductive approach was used,
with no preconceptions about the reasons why people listen
to music. Data were coded in a constant comparison process.
That is, textual responses were first read and coded to identify
commonly cited reasons for listening to music. When a new
code was identified, the previously coded data were reexa-
mined and recoded if necessary. Similar codes were grouped
together into themes. For example, the textual response ‘to
pick myself up’ was coded under the code ‘to lift a low
mood.’ Similar textual responses, such as ‘I play uplifting
music to cheer me up when I am feeling low,’ were included
in this code. This code was grouped together with other similar
codes such as ‘to maintain a good mood,’ under the theme
‘mood management.’
Half the data set was randomly selected for triangulation by
an independent sociological researcher who was blind to the
original thematic coding. In order to reach agreement on codes
and themes, researchers compared memos generated during the
independent coding processes and discussed each code, putting
forward a case until consensus was reached.
Ten themes emerged from the data. The relative prevalence
of each theme was compared between groups using Pearson
chi-square, with a Bonferroni adjusted a level of .005 (0.05/
10). The prevalence of each theme by group and collapsed
across both groups is listed in Table 2, as a percentage. (Note
that as the majority of participants nominated many reasons for
listening to music, the percentages reflect the proportion of
each group who nominated each theme and are not designed
to total 100%).
Energy and Motivation
The most commonly identified theme across the whole sample
concerned ‘energy and motivation’ and was the most com-
monly cited theme among the control group. The nondepressed
participants were significantly more likely to nominate this
theme than were participants with depression (w
¼ 17.92, df
¼ 2, P < .001). Participants’ responses for this theme included
the following:
I listen to music to boost me up in the morning to feel better, to
enhance my psychophysical state and reduce feelings of fatigue
while exercising, jogging, or when am about to play football.
I will put energetic music on when doing housework and uplift-
ing dance tunes on before going out. (Control/10937976)
want to get psyched for a dance concert play upbeat feel good
songs. (Depressed/10919890)
When I go for a run I have to listen to dance music otherwise I’ll
end up walking. (Depressed/11002526)
Mood Enhancement
The second most commonly identified theme across the whole
sample was ‘mood enhancement,’ with 39.4% of the partici-
pants stating that they used music to lift their mood generally,
to enhance positive moods, or to help them out of negative
When I feel sad or depressed I listen to my favourite pieces of
music, which generally lifts my mood to a happier place.
When I am alone or driving, I often choose songs to lift or
match an already elevated mood. (Depressed/11183763)
Table 1. Participant Characteristics for Depressed and Control
Depressed (n ¼ 148) Control (n ¼ 144)
n (%) n (%)
Male 45 (30.4%) 47 (32.6%)
Female 103 (69.6%) 97 (67.4%)
18-25 41 (27.7%) 56 (38.9%)
26-35 42 (28.4%) 41 (28.5%)
36-45 32 (21.6%) 25 (17.4%)
46-65 32 (21.6%) 18 (15.3%)
66þ 1 (0.7%)
PHQ-9 mean (SD) score 19.7 (3.4) 5.3 (3.8)
Abbreviation: PHQ-9, Patient Health Questionnaire-9.
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I generally listen to upbeat music no matter what my mood is
because it reinforces a happy mood or lifts me out of a low
mood. (Control/9597682)
I always use music to lift my spirits and it always does work.
Relax or Reduce Stress
The third most common theme across the whole sample was
‘relax or reduce stress.’ This was the most common theme
among the group with depression. Responses included the
When I am tired and I come home from a hard day and all I
want to do is just unwind, I close my bedroom curtains and
blinds so my room is completely dark then I will light scented
candles and listen to classical music and just concentrate on
breathing relaxing and unwinding to help me feel better and
calmer. (Depressed/9976612)
Sometimes I put on some classical or new-age music when I’m
feeling stressed and want to wind down. (Depressed/10964473)
At home cooking dinner with a glass of wine—I would choose a
leisurely, most often classical selection to relax and enjoy what
I am doing. (Control/10349431)
To relax after a stressful day. (Control/11225920)
Inspiration and Stimulation
‘Inspiration and stimulation’ was the fourth most prevalent
theme among the whole sample, encompassing such reasons
as ‘for mental stimulation,’ ‘for enjoyment,’ and ‘to be crea-
tive.’ This theme was significantly more prevalent among the
control group (w
¼ 13.59, df ¼ 2, P < .001).
If I feel creative or want to write/draw creatively, I listen to music
that heightens my emotions and stimulates my mind. This means
that the music is usually lively. It makes me feel alert and my feel-
ings are intensified and heightened positively. (Control/9690132
For inspiration in my own song writing. (Depressed/9699613)
This theme also encompassed reasons such as ‘when bored or
doing something boring’ such as housework or while driving.
Many participants would describe situations in which they
would play music, without describing whether there was an
associated reason, such as for enjoyment, to help pass the time,
to lift their mood, or to increase motivation. Other reasons
included ‘while studying,’ ‘while walking,’ and ‘while
When in the garage doing men things I just put on the radio.
As background music during the day. (Depressed/9920535)
To Express, Experience, or Understand Emotion
The fifth most common theme overall was ‘to express,
experience, or understand emotion.’ This was significantly
more preval en t among the group with depr essio n (w
10.61, df ¼ 2, P ¼ .001). It included such reasons as ‘to
release emotion,’ ‘to release anger’ and ‘to unders tand
my emotions.’
Sometimes I use music to unravel emotions and deconstruct
blocks that I may feel because of creeping depression or a
depressive episode. I feel it helps me not feel isolated and
understand feelings. (Depressed/9670088)
I play certain music really loudly in order to express anger.
I always listen to music after a relationship breakup. At these
times, I especially listen to the lyrics and find it an extremely
effective way to express emotion. (Control/11645388)
If I am feeling emotional (sad) I sometimes listen to moving
songs to help vent the sadness and get it out. (Control/10937976)
Focus and Concentration
The sixth theme identified was ‘focus and concentration.’
This encompassed reasons such as ‘to block out distractions’
and ‘to think or process thoughts.’
Table 2. Prevalence of Themes for Whole Sample and Depressed and Control Groups.
Total (N ¼ 292) Depressed (n ¼ 148) Control (n ¼ 144)
Theme n (%) n (%) n (%) w
Energy and motivation 122 (34.2) 44 (29.7) 78 (54.2) 17.92 <.0001*
Mood management 114 (39.4) 47 (31.8) 67 (46.5) 6.69 .010
Relax or reduce stress 108 (37.0) 51 (34.5) 57 (39.6) 0.82 .365
Inspiration and stimulation 92 (31.5) 32 (21.6) 60 (41.6) 13.59 .000*
Express, experience, and understand emotion 52 (17.8) 37 (24.9) 15 (10.4) 10.61 .001*
Focus and concentration 41 (14.0) 18 (20.5) 23 (15.3) 0.89 .349
To reflect mood 37 (12.7) 27 (18.2) 10 (6.9) 8.42 .004*
Escape, distraction, or immersion 30 (10.3) 21 (14.2) 9 (6.3) 5.71 .017
To reminisce 18 (6.2) 10 (6.8) 8 (5.6) 6.08 .014
Solace 15 (5.1) 10 (6.8) 5 (3.5) 1.62 .204
*P < .005.
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At work I used it to concentrate/focus—drown out distracting
background noise. (Depressed/10660977)
I put on classical music on the way to work because the lack of
words enables me to process my upcoming day and formulate
ideas. (Control/11500074)
To Match or Reflect Mood
This theme was characterized by a need to match music to
emotion, as opposed to manipulating a low mood by play-
ing contrary music. This theme was significantly more pre-
valent amon g t he g roup with depress ion (w
¼ 8.42, df ¼ 2,
P ¼ .004).
When I feel depressed I often listen to sad music. This helps and
doesn’t help. I’m not trying to pretend to be other than I am
which is good but it doesn’t always make me feel any happier
either. (Depressed/9889255)
I tend to enjoy listening to music that is congruent with my
mood—listening to upbeat music when I am in a contrary mood
makes both the track and indeed myself feel shallow.
I choose music to reflect mood not to change it. When music is
out of kilter with mood it jars. (Control/11157709)
A number of statements by the group with depression sug-
gested that by reflecting mood, music sometimes allowed their
mood to improve:
I find sometimes playing sad music when I feel sad helps me
overcome the feeling. (Depressed/11024553)
When I feel down and I listen to music that echoes those feel-
ings I no longer feel so alone and can move past that blue patch.
However, other statements suggest that sometimes mood did
not improve:
I am currently experiencing a relapse with my depression and
am only capable of listening to sad or melancholic music. At the
moment I am replaying 3-4 sad songs through my mp3 player.
It’s what I call feeding the dog. (Depressed/11383832)
Escape, Distraction, or Immersion
The eighth theme was ‘escape, distraction, or immersion.’
Several participants in the group with depression used music
to take their mind of troubles or thoughts:
If I am feeling down I often listen to world music as the rhythms
and different instruments seem to help take my mind off trou-
bles. (Depressed/9947252)
I use John Lennon when I want to escape from my thoughts.
Among the control group, several participants described using
music for immersion:
Music has the ability to provide the feelings of a holiday when
one is just not possible. At any time a home can turn into any
exotic destination with the help of music. (Control/11003516)
To Reminisce
The ninth theme was ‘to reminisce,’ with similar response
rates across groups.
I use music in my free time to enjoy the song, the lyrics, and
bring back the memories associated with that era. (Control/
Sometimes I will play a song that reminds me of someone I
miss very much. (Control/11044193)
The final theme was ‘solace,’ which encompassed reasons
such as ‘when feeling lonely,’ ‘to know others feel the
same,’ or ‘to feel understood.’
When I’m in a dark place I often put music on that is dark or in
which the artist expresses sadness, despair, depression, hope-
lessness, hurt. Because it is something that I can relate to and
that I understand and it feels like they would understand what
I’m feeling too. It makes me feel less alone. (Depressed/
Music can double as company too if alone. (Control/11617956)
The current study utilized qualitative analysis to compare the
reasons why people with and without depression listen to
music. There are a number of limitations to this investigation.
First, da ta were obtai ned from i ndividual s who visited a web-
site for resources about depressive disorders; while those with
current depres sion or a history of depression or bipolar disor-
der w ere excluded from th e control g roup , it remai ns that
there is an immediate scre ening bias present. Second, it is
assumed that p arti cipan ts w ould ha ve enough self-awa rene ss
to accurately report how and why they listen to music. In fact,
the reasons why people listen to music are likely to be varied,
complex, and not always at the forefront of one’s awareness.
In addition, the diverse motivations behind music listening are
unlikely to be totally captured by a retrospective
This is the first study to examine how and why persons with
depression listen to music under quasi-controlled conditions.
Qualitative analysis revealed 10 themes relating to reasons for
listening to music. The themes identified are broadly consistent
with those identified by previous research.
with depression and nondepressed (control) participants nomi-
nated similar reasons for listening to music; however, the
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groups differed in regard to the prevalence with which they
nominated certain themes.
A Finnish study
seeking to understand the reasons why
people enjoyed listening to sad music found that sadness was
‘the most salient emotion’ evoked by excerpts of sad music.
However, their findings were confounded by other positive
emotions (such as nostalgia, peacefulness) being present and
interpreted as ‘sad.’ They reported that personality traits of
‘openness to engagement’ and ‘empathy’ led to more intense
emotional responses and greater appreciation of beauty
prompted by sad music. However, their study was of university
students and did not include any consideration of the effect of
depression on music perception.
Our study found that the use of music to ‘express, experi-
ence, or understand emotion’ was more prevalent among parti-
cipants with depression. While it seems intuitive that participants
with depression would listen to music for emotional expression,
Chen, Zhou, and Bryant
suggest a potential theoretical expla-
nation for this. Based on Larsen’s
control theory of affect reg-
ulation, they propose that efforts toward mood regulation should
be increased when the mood requiring regulation is more salient.
Perhaps listening to music represents an attempt to bring emo-
tions to the forefront of one’s attention in order that they are dealt
with. This is consistent with McFarland and Buehler’s
ory that mood regulation is a 2-step process; one must first
acknowledge one’s mood state before taking steps to regulate
it. Indeed, repression of negative mood has been associated with
reduced expression and experience of positive emotion and
increased experience of negative emotion.
The need to listen to music to match or reflect mood was
more prevalent among participants with depression. The
findings are consistent with previous studies, which report that
adolescents with depression,
those in negative moods
romantically disenchanted young adults,
did not always select
music that conveyed positive emotion. Garrido and Schubert
suggest that the ruminative aspect of depression may lead a per-
chology, refers to the tendency to bring a thought back to
mind over and over and is known to be strongly associated with
suggests that when negative emo-
tions are activated in an aesthetic context, a ‘dissociation node’
is triggered, which inhibits the displeasure circuits of the brain.
Thus, the arousal produced by the negative emotion is able to be
experienced without the usual accompanying displeasure.
suggests that high concentrations of the hormone pro-
lactin, which increases during sadness to produce a consoling
psychological effect, may be associated with pleasurable
music–induced sadness, whereas low prolactin concentrations
may be associated with unpleasant music–induced sadness.
It remains unclear whether listening to sad music helps to
dissipate, or simply perpetuates, a negative mood. Garrido and
conclude that the effect of sad music on mood may
vary according to individual differences. This is consistent with
the finding that liking for negative emotion in music was asso-
ciated with the personality dimension of absorption but not
with dissociation, fantasy proneness, empathy, and
Indeed, some respondents in the current survey
reported that sad music allowed their negative mood to dissi-
pate, while others reported that it was prolonged. It is also pos-
sible that the type of depression may be a factor, given that
certain depressive subtypes have been associated with distinct
personality traits
and cognitive styles.
If listening to sad
music does allow a sad mood to be resolved for some, then
attraction to negative emotion in music would not necessarily
run counter to mood management theory.
People without depression were more likely to endorse the
themes of ‘energy and motivation’ and ‘inspiration and
stimulation.’ The use of music for stimulation may be consid-
ered consistent with optimal arousal theory, which assumes that
for each individual there is an optimum level of arousal that is
most comfortable. Understimulation or overstimulation can be
unpleasant, which will drive the individual to seek activities or
environments that optimize his or her level of arousal.
lower prevalence of these themes among people with depres-
sion may reflect the loss of interest or pleasure and low energy
that characterize depression.
Another Finnish group
compared clinically depressed
patients with nondepressed controls. They found that the
patients with depression had a negative bias in their evalua-
tionofmusicandthatsomedepressive states flattened their
emotional response to music.
They also found that
patients with depression disl iked music with ‘high energetic
arousal’ (which is associated with motivation and approach
behaviors) a nd s pecu la ted such music may be challe n ging to
patients with depression,
as depression was associated with
poor motivation , lo w ene rg y, a nd a voidan ce behaviors. Th e
current findings would see m to support these speculations,
which are also consistent with other possible mechanisms
raised above.
In conclusion, there has been growing interest in the use of
music for mood regulation, in terms of both who uses it and
how it is used. However, the general findings do not necessarily
pertain to people who have a significantly depressed mood and
who may use music for different reasons (some with potential
to improve depression, but some to maintain or worsen depres-
sive symptoms). In addition, people who are depressed do not
necessarily form a homogenous group—there may be signifi-
cant character differences, depending on depression type and
severity and premorbid personality style.
These findings could have important clinical applications.
More research is needed on whether music has potential as
an intervention in people with depression: in the short term,
to facilitate behavioral activation and concentration and, in the
longer term, to assist people to deal with potentially traumatic
and stressful situations that precipitate anxiety and depression
and also to improve emotional regulation.
The authors would like to thank the Black Dog Institute for use of the
website and access to participants. The authors also thank Leah Green-
field for assistance with the development of the online questionnaire
and data collection.
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Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The work
is supported by NHMRC Program Grant 510135, an Infrastructure
Grant from the Centre for Mental Health, NSW Department of Health
and Faces in the Street.
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Author Biographies
Kay Wilhelm, MBBS, MD, FRANZCP, is a research director of
Faces in the Street, Urban Mental Health and Wellbeing Research
Institute at St Vincent’s Hospital and Conjoint Professor in the School
of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Inika Gillis, BPsych (Hons), MPsych, is a research psychologist in the
School of Psychiatry, at the Black Dog Institute, University of New
South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Emery Schubert, PhD, BA, BE, Dip Ed, is an ARC future fellow and
associate professor in the School of the Arts and Media at the Univer-
sity of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Erin Louise Whittle, BA (Hons), is a research assistant at Faces in the
Street, Urban Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Institute, St Vin-
cent’s Hospital Wales in Sydney, Australia.
8 Music and Medicine 00(0)
at St Vincent's Hospital on April 18, 2013mmd.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... The superior temporal gyrus is known to be involved in auditory processing, where the characteristic response is mainly focused on the gamma band [26]. Indeed, a simple steady-state auditory click stimulation paradigm at gamma frequency (~40 Hz) has been reproducibly shown to reduce entrainment as measured by electroencephalography (EEG) in patients [27,28] and listening to music generating perceptual phenomenon was associated with different changes in gamma power (35)(36)(37)(38)(39)(40)(41)(42)(43)(44)(45) [29]. Acoustic tomography allows us to transform acoustic information into visual representations [30], and gamma is linked to the transformation of sensory signals along feedforward pathways [31]. ...
... Each piece of music was divided into 15 s, 30 s and 45 s in length, which has been shown to better activate emotion [42]. We excluded sad music because it may worsen subjects' mood [43][44][45]. In addition, the blank stimulus (no sound) was used as a control condition. ...
... Considering that the gamma band may play an important role in anxiety relief, we focused on the gamma band for the power spectrum analysis. Power spectrum amplitudes were calculated and compared across six conditions (neutral music: before the anxiety intervention vs. after the anxiety intervention; happy music: before the anxiety intervention vs. the after the anxiety intervention; blank stimulus: before the anxiety intervention vs. after the anxiety intervention) in the gamma band (35)(36)(37)(38)(39)(40)(41)(42)(43)(44)(45). Then, we calculated 2 regional brain segments, including the temporal lobe (T7, T8) and occipital lobe (O1, Oz, O2). ...
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Background: Some clinical studies have indicated that neutral and happy music may relieve state anxiety. However, the brain mechanisms by which these effective interventions in music impact state anxiety remain unknown. Methods: In this study, we selected music with clinical effects for therapy, and 62 subjects were included using the evoked anxiety paradigm. After evoking anxiety with a visual stimulus, all subjects were randomly divided into three groups (listening to happy music, neutral music and a blank stimulus), and EEG signals were acquired. Results: We found that different emotional types of music might have different mechanisms in state anxiety interventions. Neutral music had the effect of alleviating state anxiety. The brain mechanisms supported that neutral music ameliorating state anxiety was associated with decreased power spectral density of the occipital lobe and increased brain functional connectivity between the occipital lobe and frontal lobe. Happy music also had the effect of alleviating state anxiety, and the brain mechanism was associated with enhanced brain functional connectivity between the occipital lobe and right temporal lobe. Conclusions: This study may be important for a deep understanding of the mechanisms associated with state anxiety music interventions and may further contribute to future clinical treatment using nonpharmaceutical interventions.
... In support of this, research has shown that individuals who score high on empathy (Garrido & Schubert, 2011) or openness-to-experience (Ladinig & Schellenberg, 2012;Vuoskoski et al., 2012) or introversion (Ladinig & Schellenberg, 2012) or absorption (Garrido & Schubert, 2011 are likely to enjoy sad-sounding music. It has been further demonstrated that individuals with clinical depression may be especially likely to listen to music that expresses negative valence because it matches their chronic mood state (Wilhelm et al., 2013). Consistently, when individuals are in a sad mood, they are likely to exhibit mood congruency effects: increased liking for sad-sounding music, and increased perceptions of sadness in music that is selected to sound neutral (Hunter et al., 2011). ...
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This integrative review rearticulates the notion of human aesthetics by critically appraising the conventional definitions, offerring a new, more comprehensive definition, and identifying the fundamental components associated with it. It intends to advance holistic understanding of the notion by differentiating aesthetic perception from basic perceptual recognition, and by characterizing these concepts from the perspective of information processing in both visual and nonvisual modalities. To this end, we analyze the dissociative nature of information processing in the brain, introducing a novel local-global integrative model that differentiates aesthetic processing from basic perceptual processing. This model builds on the current state of the art in visual aesthetics as well as newer propositions about nonvisual aesthetics. This model comprises two analytic channels: aesthetics-only channel and perception-to-aesthetics channel. The aesthetics-only channel primarily involves restricted local processing for quality or richness (e.g., attractiveness, beauty/prettiness, elegance, sublimeness, catchiness, hedonic value) analysis, whereas the perception-to-aesthetics channel involves global/extended local processing for basic feature analysis, followed by restricted local processing for quality or richness analysis. We contend that aesthetic processing operates independently of basic perceptual processing, but not independently of cognitive processing. We further conjecture that there might be a common faculty, labeled as aesthetic cognition faculty, in the human brain for all sensory aesthetics albeit other parts of the brain can also be activated because of basic sensory processing prior to aesthetic processing, particularly during the operation of the second channel. This generalized model can account not only for simple and pure aesthetic experiences but for partial and complex aesthetic experiences as well.
... This can sometimes have the effect of maintaining a depressive mood (Miranda & Claes, 2008;Stewart et al., 2019). Research has shown that youths with depression are often not aware of how to select appropriate music to improve their mood (Wilhelm, Gillis, Schubert, & Whittle, 2013), and may be oblivious to its potential for negative outcomes if used to intensify distressful emotions (Cheong-Clinch & McFerran, 2016). ...
... Västfjäll et al. (2012) argue that music may be uniquely suited to treat stress or regulate emotions in everyday life. According to a qualitative study, depressed individuals listen to music more often to express their emotions than people who are not depressed (Wilhelm et al., 2013). However, when inappropriately used as a therapeutic tool, listening to music might become counterproductive, contributing to harmful emotional outbursts (Marik & Stegemann, 2016). ...
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Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a topic of increasing focus in the education sector. SEL is the process by which children acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to effectively recognize and manage emotions, to formulate positive goals, to feel empathy for others, to establish and maintain functioning social relationships. It develops to take responsible decisions, determine students’ successful academic performance, transformation into adulthood, useful work, a good quality of life, and well-being. By the end of the 20th century the educational role of music has come into the spotlight, and in addition to the impact of music on the development of general skills, its social and emotional effects are also the subject of research. This paper undertakes to explore the literature about the connections between music education and social-emotional skill development. For the collection and analysis of information, online sources of peer-reviewed scientific journals in addition to the university library were used. The study also examined the relationship between social-emotional learning and the world-wide well-known Kodály Concept and the effect of Kodály’s vision of music education as a forerunner of socio-emotional skills development. The relationship between social-emotional skills and music was explored by reviewing the international music-specific literature from music psychology, music education, music therapy, and music for health and wellbeing. In order to illuminate the problem and to develop a holistic approach, the 100 studies presented here summarize research findings made and presented in different countries around the world.
... For example, a negative mood tends to facilitate and entertain negative thinking and enhance or maintain negative affective experiences (Zillmann, 1988a), resulting in self-defeating tendencies that aggravate the distress. People who experience depressive symptoms most likely engage with music to reflect or to match their mood (Wilhelm et al., 2013). Siemer (2005) found that mood induced through music tends to be accompanied by mood-congruent cognitions in an experimental setting. ...
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People across cultures often use music to evoke positive emotions and moods. Yet, some people tend to employ maladaptive strategies such as rumination, avoidant coping, or social isolation when they listen to music. The present research investigated how strongly maladaptive musical engagement is linked with depression and wellbeing in a sample of 1415 Indians (17–65 years) across four cities and two countries. Participants completed a battery of assessments on trait affect, depression, adaptive and maladaptive musical engagement strategies, music preferences, and music skills. 1329 participants were included for analysis. All nine symptoms ( r = .16, to .30) and the sum score of depression ( r = .39), as well as trait negative affect ( r = .36) were correlated with maladaptive music engagement. Six of the symptoms of depression were significant predictors of maladaptive music engagement. Among those, suicidal ideation, worthlessness, and fatigue were the most important. Maladaptive music engagement increased the odds of experiencing all the depression symptoms ( OR = 1.04 to 1.14). Trait positive affect ( r = .29) and having music as a hobby ( r = .22) correlated with adaptive music engagement. Musicians who had been playing an instrument for six years and above had lower levels of maladaptive music engagement ( d = .84). Furthermore, the results show that depression symptoms might have a bidirectional relationship with maladaptive music engagement, with suicidal thoughts being the most important symptom. The current study also validated the Healthy-Unhealthy Music Scale (HUMS; Saarikallio et al., 2015 ) in India and provides a cut-off score based on the sensitivity (.86) and specificity (.66) in identifying people at risk for depression. Overall, the results reveal that socio-demographic factors (age, gender, relationship status, occupation status, geographical location), psychological factors (trait affect, depressive symptoms), and music skills play an important role in engaging with music.
... One interpretation of these findings is that individuals with depressive symptoms often seek out negatively valenced music because it affirms their negative mood state, making them feel less alone in their experience (Stewart et al., 2019;Wilhelm et al., 2013). However, such a listening strategy may pose a risk if that music reinforces or exacerbates their depressive symptoms. ...
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Fans of extreme metal and rap music with violent themes, hereafter termed ‘violently themed music’, predominantly experience positive emotional and psychosocial outcomes in response to this music. However, negative emotional responses to preferred music are reported to a greater extent by such fans than by fans of non-violently themed music. We investigated negative emotional responses to violently themed music among fans by assessing their experience of depressive symptoms, and whether violently themed music functions to regulate negative moods through two common mood regulation strategies: discharge and diversion. Fans of violent rap (n=49), violent extreme metal (n=46), and non-violent classical music (n=50) reported depressive symptoms and use of music to regulate moods. Participants listened to four one-minute excerpts of music in their preferred genres and rated negative emotional responses to each excerpt (sadness, tension, anger, fear). There were no significant differences between ratings of depression between groups, but the magnitude of depressive symptoms predicted the magnitude of negative emotional responses to music. The experience of depressive symptoms also predicted participants’ use of the discharge mood regulation strategy in all groups. However, the discharge strategy did not reduce (or exacerbate) fans’ negative emotional responses, but may nevertheless confer other benefits. We discuss implications for the psychosocial well-being of fans of violently themed music.
... Studies exploring why subjects listen to music revealed various reasons; for example, in the study of Lonsdale and North (2011), they noticed six motives for music listening, namely: negative mood management (music is utilized to relieve negative feelings and to improve mood), personal identity (music is used for the development of identity or to express a social image for others), surveillance (where music is used to keep up with current events or learn about things), positive mood management (music as a means to reach and enhance a positive mood), interpersonal relationships (music is used to encourage and sustain social contact), and diversion (music as a means to distraction, alleviate boredom, or pass the time). In a study carried out with adults with and without depression, Wilhelm et al. (2013) found 10 main reasons for listening to music as follows: energy and motivation, mood enhancement, relax or reduce stress, inspiration and stimulation, to express, experience, or understand emotion, focus and concentration, to match or reflect the mood, escape, distraction, or immersion, to reminisce, and solace, although all participants reported similar reasons for listening to music. The uses to express, experience, or understand emotion were more prevalent among participants with depression, while people without depression were more likely to endorse the themes of energy, motivation, inspiration, and stimulation. ...
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The COVID-19 outbreak required diverse strategies to avoid a healthcare system crisis, and social distance and self-isolation were the most applied. However, these measures can cause anxiety and depression. Music listening was shown to reduce depression symptoms and regulate emotion. Thus, we explored how music was used during the confinement period and whether it has helped individuals, especially those with severe depression symptoms, to deal with social distancing measures. This cross-sectional study included 494 Brazilian respondents aged 18 years and over. Our online survey comprised sociodemographics, COVID-19 related questionnaires, questions regarding musical listening uses during social distancing measures, anxiety, depression, and resilience levels assessment. Respondents with severe depression were increasingly likely to listen to music to feel emotionally better with the situation, to feel comfort, to forget problems, to be energetic, to decrease sad feelings, to relax, to cheer up, to forget concerns, to express feelings, to reduce anxiety, to remind of better times, to relieve boredom, to stimulate mentally, and to ward off stressful thoughts. The exploratory factor analysis identified four types of musical listening functions during social distancing measures: negative mood management, cognitive functioning, positive mood management, and physical involvement. Participants with severe depression revealed significant differences compared to no-depressed participants for the negative mood management factor, which shows the importance of musical listening to regulate their negative emotions. As a conclusion, we can argue that most of our respondents used music listening to cope and regulate their moods during the confinement, especially those who presented severe-depression symptoms.
... Music also seemed to function as a medium for expressing difficult thoughts and emotions. Wilhelm et al. (2013) found that depressed people were more likely to use music for matching, experiencing and expressing their emotions compared to non-depressed. Depression is associated with alexithymia (Taylor & Bagby, 2004) -a difficulty in describing and identifying emotions (Taylor et al., 1991). ...
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Listening to music often triggers strong memories of events from our past, which influence how we affectively experience music listening and can therefore contribute to music’s therapeutic capacity. The aim of this study was to examine the valence and content of spontaneous music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) in listeners with self-reported depression, who typically demonstrate negatively biased autobiographical memory. Eighteen depressed and 21 controls participated in a music-listening experiment where they listened to a personalized music stimulus, described their memories, and thereafter rated the valence of these memories and of their induced affect. Participants’ ratings were statistically analysed, while the memory content was analysed with the use of a computerized text-analysis method and with a qualitative thematic analysis. Quantitative ratings of valence revealed a significant difference between groups: half of the depressed, compared to none of the controls, recalled a negative memory, and these were experienced with negative induced affect. The qualitative thematic analysis of the memory descriptions revealed that both depressed and control participants’ memories could be categorized into three first-level themes: (1) personal, (2) relationships, and (3) activities. Depressed participants’ negative memories were mainly located in the ‘relationships’ theme and included memories about loss and dysfunctional relationships, such as bullying, and in the ‘personal’ theme, including memories of mental health struggles and coping with music. Approximately a third of depressed participants recalled positive memories, and these were either related to loving family relationships or to activities. Limitations concerning the small sample size and implications regarding the function of music listening for depressed individuals are discussed.
Objectives Since pharmacological interventions for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia are problematic, there is an increasing interest in nonpharmacological interventions such as music as a first-line treatment. However, the effects of music listening on people with dementia are not universally positive. This chapter reports on the development of a scale for assessing vulnerability to negative affective responses to music in people with dementia. Methods Items were developed based on prior research, and two survey studies tested and refined the items. A simulated music-listening experiment investigated whether people identified by the scale as high risk experienced negative responses to sad music. Results A final 10-item proxy version of the scale had reliability scores of 0.88 (Cronbach’s alpha). Participants identified as moderate to high risk reported less-positive affective responses to sad music. Discussion The Vulnerability to Negative Affect in Dementia Scale can be a useful tool for identifying individuals with dementia in clinical settings who may require additional monitoring or support when implementing arts-based therapies.
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There is considerable evidence that organisms can moderate incoming sensory stimulation so as to more closely approach optimal levels of arousal. When normal individuals are exposed to unusually high or low sensory input they tend to show "disordered" behavior similar to that of certain chronically disordered populations, for example, hyperactive and autistic children. It is proposed that at least some of the deviant behavior displayed by such disordered children represents a functional set of homeostatic response to condition of abnormal sensory input. Attempts to correct chronic imbalances in arousal through antecedent manipulations of chemical and sensory stimulation have been relatively successful and may provide not only appropriate treatment but also a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying many kinds of disordered behavior.
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Prior research on mood management through media consumption has encountered mixed results. This study seeks to address these discrepancies by incorporating time of measurement into the examination of regulatory outcomes and by identifying trait-like cognitive moderators that presumably are involved in the regulation of negative moods. Results showed that sad mood initially fostered longer listening to mood-compatible music but such preference decreased over time, suggesting the merits of considering temporal changes in the mood-repair process. In addition, ruminative trait was found to be a significant factor in how people cope with their sad moods, whereas mood salience was not.
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Why do people listen to music that evokes negative emotions? This paper presents five comparative interviews conducted to examine this question. Individual differences psychology and mood management theory provided a theoretical framework for the investigation which was conducted under a realist paradigm. Data sources were face-to-face interviews of about one hour involving a live music listening experience. Thematic analysis of the data was conducted and both within-case and cross-case analyses were performed. Results confirmed the complexity of variables at play in individual cases while supporting the hypothesis that absorption and dissociation make it possible for the arousal experienced when listening to sad music to be enjoyed without displeasure. At the same time, participants appeared to be seeking a variety of psychological benefits such as reflecting on life-events, enjoying emotional communion, or engaging in a process of catharsis. A novel finding was that maladaptive mood regulation habits may cause some to listen to sad music even when such benefits are not being obtained, supporting some recent empirical evidence on why people are attracted to negative emotion in music.
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This qualitative study describes the experience of music and focuses on the emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual well-being roles that music plays in the lives of older people. In-depth interviews were used to explore the meaning, importance and function of music for 52 older Australians living in the community aged 60 years and older. The findings revealed that music provides people with ways of understanding and developing their self-identity; connecting with others; maintaining well-being; and experiencing and expressing spirituality. The results show how music contributes to positive ageing by providing ways for people to maintain positive self-esteem, feel competent, independent, and avoid feelings of isolation or loneliness. The study highlights the need to be better informed about how music can facilitate and sustain older people's well-being. Copyright
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Why do People Seek out Music that Makes Them cry? This paradox is a complex one that appears to have no single answer. Rather, numerous factors appear to be interacting in the diverse responses of individuals to music. The present study tested the hypothesis that individual differences in dissociation, absorption, fantasy proneness, empathy, and rumination would be related to the enjoyment of negative emotion in music. Fifty-nine participants completed a survey pertaining to this question. Results revealed statistically significant positive relationships between enjoyment of evoked negative emotion in response to music with both absorption and the recently reported construct of 'music empathy,' Factor analysis and a regression model confirmed these results, and the approach suggests that further study of individual differences will continue to provide new insights into some of the subtleties of the enjoyment of negative emotions in music.
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Conference Paper
The mood-management theory of music preference assumes that people make choices based on a desire to improve or sustain a good mood. However, this theory does not adequately explain why some people enjoy listening to sad music. The purpose of this paper is to explore one of the predictors of the selection of sad music. Patterns of thinking which may provide exceptions to mood-management theory will be discussed. In particular, this paper will examine the possibility that the tendency to ruminate is correlated to an attraction to music that portrays negative emotions such as sadness.
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A hedonic theory of music and sadness is proposed. Some listeners report that nominally sad music genuinely makes them feel sad. It is suggested that, for these listeners, sad affect is evoked through a combination of empathetic responses to sad acoustic features, learned associations, and cognitive rumination. Among those listeners who report sad feelings, some report an accompanying positive affect, whereas others report the experience to be solely negative. Levels of the hormone prolactin increase when sad – producing a consoling psychological effect suggestive of a homeostatic function. It is proposed that variations in prolactin levels might account for the variability in individual hedonic responses. Specifically, it is conjectured that high prolactin concentrations are associated with pleasurable music-induced sadness, whereas low prolactin concentrations are associated with unpleasant music-induced sadness.
In this chapter, the hedonistic premise of mood-management theory is examined and expanded to account for seemingly nonhedonistic choices of media content. Counterhedonistic message selection is considered in the context of selective-exposure theory. Informational utility is invoked as a choice-driving force that complements content selection. The confounded operation of hedonistic and informational choice determinants is detailed for various domains of communication. In particular, it is proposed that hedonistic motivation, as articulated in mood-management theory, dominates spontaneous entertainment choices, with nonhedonistic considerations being complementary to choice determination. The choice of educational and informational media content, in contrast, is thought to be dominated by considerations of informational utility, but also to entail noninformational anticipations. The integration of these and related choice determinants is emphasized for the development of comprehensive theories of selective exposure.
Objective: While considerable attention has focused on improving the detection of depression, assessment of severity is also important in guiding treatment decisions. Therefore, we examined the validity of a brief, new measure of depression severity. Measurements: The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) is a self-administered version of the PRIME-MD diagnostic instrument for common mental disorders. The PHQ-9 is the depression module, which scores each of the 9 DSM-IV criteria as "0" (not at all) to "3" (nearly every day). The PHQ-9 was completed by 6,000 patients in 8 primary care clinics and 7 obstetrics-gynecology clinics. Construct validity was assessed using the 20-item Short-Form General Health Survey, self-reported sick days and clinic visits, and symptom-related difficulty. Criterion validity was assessed against an independent structured mental health professional (MHP) interview in a sample of 580 patients. Results: As PHQ-9 depression severity increased, there was a substantial decrease in functional status on all 6 SF-20 subscales. Also, symptom-related difficulty, sick days, and health care utilization increased. Using the MHP reinterview as the criterion standard, a PHQ-9 score > or =10 had a sensitivity of 88% and a specificity of 88% for major depression. PHQ-9 scores of 5, 10, 15, and 20 represented mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe depression, respectively. Results were similar in the primary care and obstetrics-gynecology samples. Conclusion: In addition to making criteria-based diagnoses of depressive disorders, the PHQ-9 is also a reliable and valid measure of depression severity. These characteristics plus its brevity make the PHQ-9 a useful clinical and research tool.
This article reports results of a panel study of 509 Swedish youth, with data collected in 1976, 1978, and 1980, on uses and gratifications of popular music. There is a relationship between amount of peer orientation and type of music preferred. An exploratory factor analysis identified three types of music preference: (1) punk, new wave, and rock; (2) mainstream pop; and (3) classical, jazz, and folk music. Motivations for listening were more physical and emotional than cerebral (that is, listening to lyrics).