Music to Cry for: the psychology of emotions and entertainment media.

A study of 892 adult students in 2017 claimed that, ‘feeling like crying from music can reflect different underlying states’.[i] Of these, 89.8 per cent said they felt like crying with certain music. As I write I am listening to the sound track to Last of the Mohicans (dir. Michael Mann, 1992, soundtrack Trevor Jones) and getting emotional so I can relate to this 89.8 per cent, but I am a weeper anyway. There was no music, but I cried even before the start of the FA Cup final which Leicester won this year, plus during the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. Feelings for this study were bracketed into 16 categories based on self-reporting which of course has its weaknesses. According to this study, people who ranked high on the ‘neuroticism scale’ experienced sadness when listening to music making them cry. They were 5 personality categories: neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. 63 percent cried due to feeling sad linked to being neurotic, while 36.7 percent felt awe linked to openness. In a crude summary like this it sounds absurd, but confirms my view that categorisation approaches to knowledge are problematic. This is part of my work for my current book on ‘madness’ and culture which focuses on the transrational in an attempt to move away from the binary. As I listen to Last of the Mohicans, I recall what I was doing in 1992 (starting my PhD research, moving to London) when I first heard it. This was a relatively happy time. I had finished my Masters which was later turned into a book, plus I currently feel content. I remember vividly my eighth birthday when a school friend gave me the novel by James Fenimore Cooper. I wasn’t happy with the present, but it did not make me unhappy. Once I discovered it was not the kids’ version I found it cool; ten years later we studied it at Warwick. I don’t know if I am neurotic, but I have done tests where I have been both extrovert and introvert. Music’s power is surely its ability to alter our feelings, to transport us, rather than merely reflecting who we are and confirming and enhancing existing feelings. Sure, we might seek out sad music when we feel sad (by having a Leonard Cohen fest if that is your cup of tea), but ‘awe’ is definitely not a word I use. ‘Everything is awesome’ goes the song from the Lego Movie (Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, 2014). That is a bit too American for me, although it is a great film. It seems to me we can feel sadness and awe at the same time. A categorisation approach has issues. Someone can be extrovert and neurotic, but also closed and this can change by the minute, depending on external and/or internal circumstances. The romantic refrain for me is especially emotional in Last of the Mohicans. I am not normally a Daniel Day Lewis fan, but his performance here as hunky Hawkeye is magnificent as is that of the wonderful Madelaine Stowe as Cora. Maybe, even minus the music, I will shed a tear when I finish all four seasons of Revenge which stars Stowe as the queen of the Hamptons. Spotify has now thrown up John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Martin Jarvis and Peter Hunt, 1969)…it clearly knew my mood, or my desired mood?  


[i] When Music Makes You Cry | Psychology Today

One thought on “Music to Cry for: the psychology of emotions and entertainment media.

  1. Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” is a powerfully evocative piece. Film music plays an enormous part in my Life. “Somewhere in Time” and the the beautiful “Give me a smile” by John Barry, move me to tears.
    John Williams’ “Across the Stars” theme reminds me of such happier times in my career that it, too, can move me to sighs of despair.


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