The Homunculus

Psychology, Anthropology, Evolution

The comfort of sad songs

Posted by Joy Icayan on December 9, 2009

We were in a Richard Poon event in Eastwood last night. The Fil-Taiwanese jazz singer played a series of songs revolving around heartache/heartbreak, teasing the audience if they were in tears yet. He admitted he only got the habit of singing continuous slow sad songs from a fellow singer, and didn’t get the point of ‘paying a fee to get your painful experiences relived to you.’ But that he had noticed that it worked.

So why does it work? Why do we want to hear sad songs just when we’re sad? According to neuroscientist David Huron, listeners of sad songs feel an empathy similar to what they would feel hearing the voice of a loved one and that sad music triggers cues of our own experiences, which gives us the ‘they’re playing our song’ moment.

He adds that when music makes us cry, we release prolactin. The release of this hormone, along with oxytocin and dopamine mimics what we feel when we bond with others. “I suggest that the pleasure of musically induced weeping arises from cortical inhibition of the amygdala, and is linked to the release of the hormone prolactin . . . Weeping shares a deep kinship with laughter, frisson (‘chills’), and awe (‘gasping’) — responses that philosopher Edmund Burke called the ‘sublime emotions.’” Crying  over music makes us happy, comforts us, no matter how paradoxical that sounds.

[this is just a lame excuse to write about Richard Poon who did a Nobody jazz medley with the standard clap/steps, and who, uh, melted my, uh, heart. OK enough now.]


3 Responses to “The comfort of sad songs”

  1. Francis Paolo said

    This is so immature, but I can’t help but cackle each time I hear/see his last name.

    • annani said

      ARRGH why why why? You were also the same person who introduced the concept of ‘snowballing’ to me. It was in an old entry of Sir Paolo & it was a photo of a hand holding snow, tapos you said you thought it was about ‘snowballing’. HAHA

      • Francis Paolo said

        Hahaha. Really?

        Well can I say? I got my feet on the ground, my heart in my sleeve, and my mind in the gutter. That is how, as the cool kids tell it, I roll.

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