News and events Tilburg University

The Consoling Power of Music: The Role of Emotions and Musical Aspects

Published: 17th January 2023 Last updated: 17th January 2023

Music and emotions are inextricably linked to one another. Music's ability to evoke emotion in listeners, is one of the reasons why people turn to music to improve their mood or express what they are feeling. Even though music is able to console, little systematic research has considered how music can offer consolation. This dissertation investigates music's consoling properties and considers related behavior, such as crying over music.

Our research shows that listening to music is one of the foremost ways for people to console themselves, even more so than looking for support from others, eating, or crying. Moreover, it is a very private and intimate activity that mostly occurs when alone after the experience of a personal loss, such as the loss of a loved one or feeling misunderstood. Songs of consolation elicit feelings of being moved, sadness, and nostalgia, but also give rise to feeling strengthened, and relaxed. According to listeners it is the music itself (e.g., the melody), the lyrics (in case of pop music), and the memories that music evokes, which brings solace. It provides listeners with a sense of connection in which music can function as an understanding friend.

In the picture: Waldie Hanser

Waldie Hanser

In follow-up research, we investigated a possible association between emotional eating and several ways of regulating one's mood through music listening, including consolation, and discharge. We found an association between emotional eating and discharge, but not between emotional eating and consolation. Discharge is the venting of one's emotions, for instance, by listening to very loud music. Discharge appears to be the opposite of consolation.

Crying over music is a common behavior. It mostly occurs when alone, and crying episodes tend to be short with mostly moist eyes and some sobbing. Listeners experience feelings of being moved, sadness, nostalgia and powerless when crying over music. They attribute their tears to sad memories evoked by music, nostalgia, the music itself, and the lyrics. Women cry more often and more intense than men, but the typical gender differences that are reported in the general crying literature, appear to be smaller when crying over music. Normally, these smaller differences are reported in case of severe distress or profound joy (e.g., a wedding, birth, or loss of a loved one).

Lastly, we compared the linguistic and musical characteristics of often-used Dutch and English sung funeral music to popular hit music by the same artists. Funeral music sounds sadder, is less energetic, and more acoustic than popular music. Funeral music is also more often in a major key. This suggests a mixture between positive and negative feelings that also found in consolation through music and crying over music. We also find this mixed affect in the lyrics, which has more positive than negative words, and most of these negative words express sadness. We further found interesting differences in the use of second-person pronouns, and verbs in the future tense; second-person pronouns, and future tense verbs were more common in funeral songs. These pronouns express a personal connection with somebody else, while the future-focused words give this connection some permanence. A clear example is: "I will always love you." The acoustic character of the music allows one to focus and emphasize the lyrics.

The emotions listeners experience when experiencing consolation or when crying over music have recently been linked to prosocial behavior and processes underlying social connections. Our findings can prove useful in the field of mood-regulation through music, and the general understanding of consolation.

Note for the press

Waldie Hanser will receive his doctorate on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 1:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Tilburg University. The title of his dissertation is 'The consoling power of music: The Role of Emotions and Musical Aspects'. Promotor is Prof. Ad Vingerhoets, co-promotor is Dr. Ruth Mark. 

Symposium Music & Emotion

The promotion will be preceded by the Music & Emotion symposium from 10 a.m. to noon at the Blackbox, Esplanade Building, Tilburg University. More information and free registration: 

The promotion can be followed via livestream

For more information or a PDF van the thesis, please contact Femke Trommels, press officer at Tilburg University via +31 13-466 2685 or