Music in this household is a necessity, if the world stopped we’d be the ones singing around the campfire trying to keep music alive as best we can. I personally use music to change or feed my mood, to help me sleep or help me concentrate, I have music I clean to (as does my husband – he uses Meatloaf) and music to sing to. Music is incredibly important to me, to us. If you read the precursor to this post you’ll have an idea of what I’m aiming to achieve with this post, but just in case you haven’t here is an bit of backstory and an explanation.
Firstly, this is not in anyway meant to be a study, research or anything other than an informal discussion about how music affects us. Should it ever make it to being a study, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Recently my youngest called me to ask me a question, on speaker phone, in front of her friends. Awkward but nice she considers my opinion to be so important. The question I was asked was does depressing music make you more depressed, or make you feel better, one of the boys she was debating this with swore that it made you more depressed and that you shouldn’t listen to it if you have depression because it makes you worse. He also stated she was a counsellor or similar and therefore knew what she was talking about, to which my daughter very proudly, and rather misguidedly announced that her mum is a psychologist. For those interested, I am not registered with the BPS or anyone else and do not call my self a psychologist – nor will I until I can afford to register. I pointed this out to her and also explained that a large proportion of what we believe we know when it comes to mental health is still theory, and that theories change, paradigms shift. That said I also believe that how music affects you is a personal thing, not necessarily something easily generalised. So there you have it, there’s the backstory to this post and now to get down to business.
Music preference is something that is different for everyone, often influenced by music heard in earlier years, tastes are usually fairly varied and cover a large spread of styles. Of course everyone knows someone who “hates” music types that differ from their preferences and judge people based on this. In many cases it’s best to ignore these people, your taste in music is yours and yours alone, no one else needs to have an opinion on it. Recently a few questions on the subject were shared on social media, the main aim to see how musical preference and emotions reflect against each other. Although it was a very small collection of individuals who responded, the responses were interesting, one individual (blogger Losingatjumanji) described music as “how I feel things, it’s how I celebrate or grieve. I put on music happy or sad depending on the mood and I sing it so loud my neighbours can hear and I often cry. But it’s how I deal with things.” Suggesting that some individuals feel music is cathartic, allowing them to vent emotions and experience them as is needed. From the point of view of depression, this may be used to release the emotions associated that may otherwise boil over. However it is easy to see how some individuals may find that it can almost be overwhelming to have to deal with depressing or negative forms of music when experiencing emotional issues. In those instances, the question is how this could be represented in their preferences. Most responders agreed that music tastes were influenced by their mood, with a mix between those who chose to listen to the music that they associated with that emotion. S. Quinton described his musical tastes by emotion “Happiness; Power metal/pop-punk/ska punk, Anger: Trash/speed/Nu/Black metal Depression; Doom/Goth /black metal”, aiming specifically to channel the emotions using the music, while N. Kimmage-Mosby (author) stated that her choices in music were influenced often by the mood of the writing she was doing, a cheerful piece of music would, in a practical sense, not give off the correct mood to write an emotionally fraught scene. While others had a genre overall they preferred but that their choice of music was still to a degree affected by their mood, L. MacDonald preferred to always listen to upbeat cheerful music, which could be beneficial when trying to lift ones mood, while S. Davies gave her preference for jazz though still leaning towards different forms of jazz depending on her mood. While a generalisation could not be made with so little data, it is clear that, at least to some people, musical preference is influenced in some way, by their mood.
So what is music therapy, and what does it have to do with emotions and preferences? According to an interview on the University of Minnsota’s website, with Dr. Annie Heidersheit, “music therapy is the use of music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of a group or individual.” Using different methods, from listening to participating in music, it is used to distract the mind, allowing the mood to be altered and behaviour to be influenced. Music has been shown in studies to have a positive affect on the emotional well-being of patients in palliative care (Black, Zimmerman & Rodin, 2017), where by participants took part in actively listening to music either played or sung by the therapist. Of course this isn’t the only research into music and emotion, having only had a small search I have found two studies that examine the relationship between mood and musical preference, the first (McFerran, Garrido, et al, 2014), who looked at teenagers mood management and music preferences in Australia, I won’t go into heavy details, but the findings suggested that although their taste in music was influenced by their mood, preferring heavier, angry music, such as metal, there was no evidence to suggest that this music had any more of a negative effect on their mood in comparison to other forms of music. A study by Thoma, Ryf, et al (2010) looked at it from the point of view as to whether mood could affect the musical choices made, their findings suggested that in fact, individuals often chose music in order to regulate or induce certain emotions. What does this mean? With this little information not much, but does imply that perhaps, rather than the music increasing negative emotions or influencing moods in a negative manner, that in fact, individuals who are suffering or struggling seek out music that can either induce a different mood, or that reflects the emotions they’re already feeling.
As a more personal note I myself choose my music in order to induce a mood, I even have specific playlists for my moods, the research here isn’t enough to form an official opinion that could be generalised, perhaps one day I’ll do a proper meta-analysis on this subject, though if I do I promise not to bury you in stats. As it stands, what I’ve seen and read so far is enough for me to stand by my initial reaction, I do not think that negative or depressing music has a detrimental affect on moods, and if it does help with mood regulation, then it is well worth listening to it. Choose your music and enjoy it.