Listen to the song in the video below, and pay close attention to how it makes you feel. Are you relaxed by the sweeping sounds of string instruments? Does the song’s tone make you feel frightened or uneasy? Or maybe the music actually moves you tears?
Don’t be embarrassed if you got a little weepy: It turns out that researchers have been using this instrumental piece (which is called “Discovery of the Camp” and, as you can see, was featured in the TV show Band of Brothers) to “induce sadness” in participants across several studies the past few years. And the most recent study results suggest that a strong emotional reaction to the song is actually linked to empathetic traits and “sensitivity to emotional contagion.”
Music researchers asked 102 people between the ages of 18 and 67 to listen to “Discovery of the Camp” before answering questions about how it made them feel. Based on those answers, researchers divided the participants into three separate groups: those who experienced “relaxing sadness” (the song made them feel at peace), those who experienced “nervous sadness” (the song made them feel anxious or scared), or those who experienced “moving sadness” (the song made them feel intensely, well, sad). Then the participants completed a series of tests designed to measure empathy.
Ultimately, the researchers found that people who experienced moving sadness while listening to the piece were more likely to have high empathy scores than those who experienced relaxing or nervous sadness.
Of course this study has many limitations and doesn’t mean having a strong emotional reaction to music is proof that you’re empathetic. But it does give us a good retort the next time the Titanic theme song comes on and someone judges us for getting misty: “Leave me alone, I’m sensitive to emotional contagion!”
[h/t Science of Us]