The San Francisco Classical Voice has an insightful article investigating why some of us love listening to sad music, while others loathe it. David Huron, a professor at Ohio State’s School of Music and Center for Cognitive Science who is writing a book called The Science of Sad Music, has a theory:
People who enjoy sorrowful music are experiencing the consoling effects of prolactin, a hormone that is usually associated with pregnancy and lactation but that the body also releases when we’re sad or weeping. People who can’t bear listening to sad music, Huron conjectures, don’t get that prolactin rush when they hear Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings or Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. They just feel blue.
In the article, Huron goes on to state:
“When you have a grief experience — like your dog dies — you get a prolactin release that prevents the grief from getting out of hand. Imagine if you could fool the brain into thinking your dog died, but at the end of the day, it didn’t. These subcortical structures start going into grief mode, and you get this prolactin, which is the brake on the grief. But the cognitive part of the brain says, ‘Who are you kidding? Your dog didn’t die; this is just music.’ So the cortical, conscious part of the brain is sending signals to the subcortical structure, saying, ‘Turn it off, there’s no reason to be sad.’ Now you have the prolactin release without the psychic pain. So at the end of the day, you’re actually feeling quite good.”
Read the full article here.