Why do depressed people prefer sad music?

Emotion. 2020 Jun;20(4):613-624. doi: 10.1037/emo0000573. Epub 2019 Feb 28.


One of the cardinal symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) is persistent sadness. Do people with MDD actually prefer sad stimuli, potentially perpetuating their depression? Millgram, Joormann, Huppert, and Tamir (2015) observed such preferences and interpreted them as reflecting a maladaptive emotion regulatory goal to upregulate sad feelings. We assessed emotional music choice among both those with MDD and healthy controls (HC), and assessed the reasons for music preferences in these two groups. Seventy-six female participants (38 per group) completed two tasks: (1) Millgram et al.'s (2015) music task wherein participants listened to happy, neutral, and sad music excerpts and chose the one they wanted to listen to most, and (2) a novel Emotional Music Selection Task (EMST) wherein participants chose preferred music clips, varying in emotion and energy level, in paired-choice trials. In the replication music task, MDD people were more likely to choose sad music. However, inconsistent with any motivation to upregulate sadness, people with MDD reported that they chose sad music because it was low in energy levels (e.g., relaxing). EMST results revealed that MDD people had a stronger preference for both low energy and sad music, relative to HC. The strong appeal of sad music to people with MDD may be related to its calming effects rather than any desire to increase or maintain sad feelings. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Music / psychology*
  • Sadness / psychology*
  • Young Adult