Affect-Incongruency in Emotional Responses to Music

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Recently, Friedman and his colleagues (2012; Taylor & Friedman, 2015) proposed that prior research indicating a preference for sad music among individuals in sad affective states may in fact reflect an underlying reluctance to listen to happy music, an aversion driven by the belief that listening to such music would feel inappropriate and would be ineffective in mood repair. Given that individuals are often inaccurate in predicting their emotional responses, the question arises as to whether happy music is indeed ineffective in mitigating feelings of sadness. To test this, we conducted two experiments in which we induced participants into either sad or neutral affective states, randomly assigned them to listen to 1 of their favorite happy or sad songs, and measured the emotional impact of this listening experience. In both experiments, we also used a cover story and/or a bogus pipeline procedure to minimize artifacts from demand characteristics. Results revealed that happy music is highly effective at dispelling acute feelings of sadness, contrary to the intuitions expressed by participants in earlier studies. The findings also suggested that individuals in sad affective states do not feel much better and, in fact, may feel worse after listening to sad music. Together, these results point to potential limitations in individuals’ abilities to effectively regulate their emotions using music and challenge the notion that mood-congruent music is effective in alleviating sadness.

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