Sociology might actually have an explanation for the odd popularity of Tori Amos songs - depressing music might evoke positive emotions, according to a new paper. Obviously depending on your age you can just insert Joy Division or The Smiths where it says Tori Amos and get the idea. Some music can be a real downer.

But some music always has been. There is a reason why funeral music uses minor keys - and movies have used it for similar emotional effect since their inception.

But soundtracks are interspersed with lots of other music, they are not all dirges. Most people would assume that sad music is chronically listened to by sad people who are just making themselves sadder. Not so, according to Ai Kawakami and colleagues from Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan.  Some people enjoy it. 

They asked 44 volunteers (musicians and not) to listen to two pieces of sad music and one piece of happy music. Each participant was required to use a set of keywords to rate both their perception of the music and their own emotional state. 

The sad pieces of music included Glinka's "La Séparation" in F minor and Blumenfeld's Etude "Sur Mer" in G minor. The happy music piece was Granados's Allegro de Concierto in G major. To control for the "happy" effect of major key, they also played the minor-key pieces in major key, and vice versa.

The researchers explained that sad music evoked contradictory emotions because the participants of the study tended to feel sad music to be more tragic, less romantic, and less blithe than they felt themselves while listening to it.

The Cure should fix her right up. Link: Photobucket

"In general, sad music induces sadness in listeners, and sadness is regarded as an unpleasant emotion. If sad music actually evokes only unpleasant emotion, we would not listen to it," the authors wrote in the study. "Music that is perceived as sad actually induces romantic emotion as well as sad emotion. And people, regardless of their musical training, experience this ambivalent emotion to listen to the sad music." 

Also, unlike sadness in daily life, sadness experienced through art actually feels pleasant, possibly because the latter does not pose an actual threat to our safety. This could help people to deal with their negative emotions in daily life, concluded the authors.

"Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion," they added.

Citation: Ai Kawakami, Kiyoshi Furukawa, Kentaro Katahira and Kazuo Okanoya, 'Sad music induces pleasant emotion', Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00311