Why people like sad music
Those at depression risk listen to sad music more, finds an IIT-H study
Hyderabad: A study of music consumption through streaming platforms has revealed that individuals at risk of depression are found listening more to music tagged with sadness. They were also found listening to music belonging to sub-genres such as neo-psychedelic pop/rock, and Indie music (Alternative pop and rock) which are tagged with 'sadness' and 'tenderness'.
The study of music data by researchers at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIT-H) found that such people use repeated listening of music predominantly representing sadness as a coping mechanism. "Each time you access or use an online resource, you unwittingly leave behind a digital footprint. Same is the case when you listen to music online. As more and more people use music streaming applications, they inadvertently reveal a lot more than mere music listening habits," says the paper.
Dr Vinoo Alluri of the Cognitive Science department at IIIT-H strongly believes that listening to music is not a passive activity but one that holds a "mirror to the self." With this credo, she and her students Aayush Surana and Yash Goyal have tried to identify music listeners with depressive tendencies from their listening histories.
Shaking up the conventional belief of music listening being a means to only alleviate one's mood, Prof. Alluri says that the inability to stop repeatedly listening to (sad) music, using it as a tool for avoidance and using music as a coping mechanism means one could wallow in an unhappy state too.
Terming it as a maladaptive use of music, she says, "This may also be a useful way of mirroring negative emotions and states, so they listen to music which matches their (negative) states. While it can be cathartic sometimes, repeatedly being in such states may be an indicator of potential underlying mental illness and this is reflected in their choice and usage of music."
In the study, titled "Tag2risk: Harnessing Social Music tags for characterizing depression risk" over 500 individuals' music listening histories were elicited from the music streaming platform in addition to their responses on standard questionnaires assessing their traits and states, namely the Kessler's Psychological Distress Scale (K-10), the Healthy-Unhealthy Music Scale (HUMS), and personality questionnaires.
"We chose HUMS and the personality questionnaires because we wanted to see if the distress in individuals was a temporary state or a general tendency. There's a strong correlation between personality traits and the Kessler's score; those who score high on neuroticism are the ones who are generally easily stressed and anxious.
They also score high on the unhealthy HUMS score. So, we were testing the validity of data," explains Prof. Alluri who is the main overseeing author of the paper. Surana and Goyal who are the joint first authors of the paper, particularly looked at social tags or labels that listeners apply to songs, albums or artists.
Those at risk of depression were found predominantly listening to music tagged with emotions such as sadness. Sadness is representative of being low on energy or activity and low on valence or pleasantness. In fact, other related terms such as dead, low, depressed, miserable, broken, and lonely were also associated with sadness.