Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Edelyn Verona, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark Goldman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Brannick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Schlauch, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sandra Schneider, Ph.D.


depressive disorders, depression, emotion, choice, cognition


Persons with depression consistently report a preference for sad music. Are such preferences maladaptive or beneficial? We tested this question in a 3-part study that examined 77 participants’ (39 with and 38 without clinical depression) music choice in daily life, affective outcomes, and the reasons for music choice. During a 3-day ecological momentary assessment (EMA), participants chose a song from a pre-set music library of happy and sad songs and rated their affect before and after hearing the chosen song. In addition, we analyzed the characteristics (e.g., tempo) of participants’ free song choices over 7 days (from participants’ Spotfiy music streaming accounts). Finally, we analyzed the reasons participants reported for why they listened to music when feeling happy and sad. Unlike nondepressed persons, persons with depression lacked a preference for happy over sad songs; further, depressed persons’ favorite freely chosen songs had a slower tempo than nondepressed persons freely chosen songs. Notably, both groups reported increased relaxedness as well as decreased happiness after hearing sad songs and did not differ in these reports. When feeling sad, participants in both groups did not indicate that they listened to music to increase high arousal positive affect. Depressed persons’ music choices may reflect a desire to feel calm rather than a desire to upregulate feeling distressed.