Do you love listening to sad music, or do you hate it?
Eminent music professor David Huron has a theory. And he’s using Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings to test it.
He says people who enjoy sorrowful music are experiencing the consoling effects of prolactin, a hormone that is usually associated with pregnancy and lactation but that the body also releases when we’re sad or weeping. He figures people who can’t bear listening to sad music don’t get that prolactin rush.
The study involves taking blood samples from subjects as they listen to sad music, to no music, and then to happy music – to measure how much of the hormone is normally in their systems and how much, if any, is released when they hear the sad songs. He says the effect of prolactin is “a bit like Mother Nature wrapping her arms around you, consoling you, and saying, ‘There, there; it’s okay.’ And since people listening to the sad music don’t have any actual psychic pain, the exercise can leave them feeling very good indeed.