Reinvestigating Affect-Congruency in Music Choice: Does Misery Really Love Company?


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Abstract

In this experiment, we resolved a number of the primary methodological limitations of prior studies so as to reinvestigate whether sadness fosters affect-congruency in music choice. To this end, we manipulated sad as well as neutral and happy affective states, using well-validated film-based inductions, measured music choice after rigorously controlling for differences in musical content and structure between expressively sad and happy music options, and used techniques borrowed from experimental social psychology to mitigate the potential for demand characteristics. Confirming prior lab-based and naturalistic findings, participants showed an overall tendency to prefer expressively happy over sad music; however, individuals in sad affective states failed to show any absolute tendency to favor sad music, calling into question the notion that “misery loves company” with respect to music choice. Supplementary findings revealed that individual differences in reflection, a form of private self-attentiveness, were associated with increased overall preference for sad music, yet that this effect was not moderated by induced affect. In sum, the present findings help clarify how both sadness and self-referential cognitive styles are associated with music preference.

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