Hair of the Dog

30 May

ImageMusic’s ability to manipulate human emotions in film and TV for decades. It’s been used to raise spirits, promote introspection, and signal mood for centuries in theater, weddings, church services and funerals. Stores play music to promote spending, films communicate the mood of a scene, foreshadowing events through music. Elevators … Actually, I don’t know what elevator music is supposed to do – maybe help keep us from killing one another when confined in a small space.

In 1993 Kim and Areni of Texas Tech demonstrated the power of music:

As part of a field experiment … the background music (classical versus Top-Forty) in a centrally located wine store was varied over a two month period. The results … indicated that the classical music influenced shoppers to spend more money. Additional findings suggest that, rather than increasing the amount of wine purchased, customers selected more expensive merchandise when classical music was played in the background.

ImageI know the effect music has on my mood. Yet, I’m drawn inexplicably to a certain type of music when I’m depressed. Specifically, it’s music that lulls me deeper into depression (at least somewhat) – but that’s a very subjective statement. Let’s say that when I’m depressed I gravitate to a certain genre of music may possibly re-enforce those same depressive feelings. Or perhaps it’s just music that I relate to better when my mood is so.

This behavior is not unique to me. Many people suggest that they self-select depressing music when they are sad in order to raise their mood – yet, evidence suggests that this is a counter-productive behavior. Last year (2013) a University of New South Wales, Australia group assessed the mood of a number of people before and after listening to just this type of music.

It was found that both [subjects] had significant increases in depression after listening to self-selected sad music … [These R]esults support the hypothesis that listening to sad music is related to maladaptive mood regulation strategies in some listeners.

That is, it’s not helping us, but we seek it out anyway. It’s exactly why I have my stations ‘Down notes’,  ‘Pity me not’, and ‘Fire walk with me’ (among others) on Pandora. Each approaches depression from a slightly different angle, like my own musical version of 50 Eskimo words for snow.

the Inuit dialect spoken in Canada’s Nunavik region has at least 53 [words for snow], including “matsaaruti,” for wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners, and “pukak,” for the crystalline powder snow that looks like salt.

Perhaps it’s just the hair of the dog.

the man who was mercilessly tortured by thoughts kept on thinking 


Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


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3 responses to “Hair of the Dog

  1. Gerri

    May 30, 2014 at 8:56 am

    I would have to disagree with the findings of, “a University of New South Wales, Australia group”; perhaps it is true for those who have clinical depression, but, for us ‘regular folk’, a release of emotions is a stress reliever. I select ‘sad’ music when I’m looking for a release, a good cry, and then I feel better afterwards.

  2. downhousesoftware

    May 30, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    You raise a good point about sample selection and the differences between whatever it is that we call ‘normal’ and someone who is clinically depressed. I wrote to the corresponding author and hope that she will provide me with a look at the data she published to see which group she targeted – or if that distinction was made.
    Initially, I was just writing because I was depressed myself and thought I would unwind it a little by turning it into a research question that I could have some fun with. The more I think about it though, the more it interests me how we use music to manipulate ourselves and others (e.g. the shoppers). Thanks for keeping the discussion going, Gerri.

  3. downhousesoftware

    June 2, 2014 at 7:27 am

    I wrote to Dr. Sandra Garrido, the author of the Australian study you were commenting on, Gerri, and she had this clarification:

    “Yes, the distinction between ‘normal’ and clinical depression is important here. Plenty of people can listen to sad music as part of ‘adaptive’ ways of dealing with negative emotions. They use it for catharsis, or to reflect on things that are going on in their own lives. In our study though, we found that for people with a tendency to rumination (often a predictor of clinical depression), listening to sad music when feeling down can become a habit that they can’t break and which doesn’t make them feel better. Most people may listen to a bit of sad music and it helps them work through whatever they are feeling down about and then they move on with their lives. Ruminators however, might get stuck in a pattern of listening to sad music because it matches the way they feel and it just perpetuates the cycle of negative thinking that they are already in.”

    She also provided a copy of the original article in which the distinction between ‘ruminators’ and ‘non-ruminators’ was made more clearly. In that, you appear to have hit the nail on the head regarding the way different people use these techniques of self-placation either successfully of unsuccessfully.


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