Medical News Today: The surprising link between depression and the pursuit of happiness

People may think that valuing happiness leads to a happier life. However, new research has found that wanting to feel happy can also have a negative outcome.

woman arranging flowersShare on Pinterest
Could focusing too much on happiness actually lead to depression?

Previous studies have concluded that excessively valuing happiness can cause a person to feel less happy. In some cases, it may even be associated with symptoms of depression.

Interestingly, there is a theory that this negative relationship only occurs in the Western world — particularly in the United States.

However, one 2015 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found a positive association between happiness value and well-being among Russian and East Asian populations.

One reason for this cultural discrepancy could be that Western cultures have a habit of basing their happiness levels on individual achievements, rather than universal goals.

Recent research, now appearing in the Journal of Happiness Studies, looked deeper into this relationship.

Studying people in the United Kingdom

Focusing on the U.K., another Western population, the authors of the new research used two separate studies to investigate potential causes of this negative association.

The researchers' theories ranged from impaired attentional control, which sees people focus heavily on negative emotional events as well as positive ones, to choosing ill-suited emotional regulation strategies.

People tend to perceive these strategies as requiring less effort. They are based on "maladaptive" mechanisms, such as avoidance or suppression.

To test these theories, the researchers handed several questionnaires to a number of undergraduate university students based in the U.K.

The team assessed their answers using a number of emotional and mental health scales, chosen for their reliability.

The first study involved measuring 151 students' levels of attentional control when faced with a variety of emotional events.

The researchers also assessed suppression and reappraisal, which are two differing emotional regulation strategies.

The results showed a significant link between happiness value and depressive symptoms via impaired attentional control and the use of suppression to regulate emotions.

Diving deeper

A larger sample of 299 students took part in the second study. Attempting to duplicate its previous findings, the team went one step further by noting participants' nationalities.

Almost three-quarters were British, and 7% were dual nationality. In the non-British group, 51% were European, 40% were Asian, 7% were African, and 2% were Australian.

The researchers also examined the participants' ability to appreciate positive emotions, and they looked to see whether or not symptoms of mania had a role to play in the association between happiness value and depression.

Again, the analysis found a significant link between depressive symptoms and the pursuit of happiness. Placing excessive emphasis on happiness also reduced a person's ability to savor positive experiences.

However, the team did not see the same relationship with mania symptoms.

A cultural surprise

However, researcher Dr. Julia Vogt explains that "one of the most interesting things we found was how specific this was to [the] U.K. participants who took part."

"The relationship between valuing happiness and depressive symptoms was seen far more significantly in U.K. participants than those from other nationalities or dual citizens," adds Dr. Vogt, who is a psychologist at the University of Reading in the U.K.

"We don't go so far as to test what those differences are, but there seems to be a significant divide between English-speaking Western cultures and other cultures when it comes to how our internal value of experiencing happiness shapes our experiences and mood."

Dr. Julia Vogt

"[T]his is the first time as far as we're aware," notes Dr. Vogt, "that the U.K. experience of valuing happiness has been looked at."

Further studies with a long-term focus will need to replicate the findings before researchers can draw any conclusions on cause and effect.

There is also a need to include more male perspectives, as both of the recent studies had a significant male minority. With time, however, this field of research could help prevent and treat conditions such as depression.

Original Article

Medical News Today: The 13 emotions that music evokes in us

A new study from the University of California, Berkeley has identified and mapped the 13 subjective experiences that different kinds of music can evoke in people.

smiling person listening to musicShare on Pinterest
Researchers have now mapped the main 13 categories of emotion that music can evoke in us.

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted a playlist of musical tracks to put you in a certain mood — for example, to motivate you to work — but were unsure how to find it or put it together?

Soon, it may become easier to find music to suit your current emotions or kickstart you into action, thanks to a new study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

The research, which doctoral student Alan Cowen led, used more than 2,000 music samples to gauge how different types of music influenced emotion in cohorts from two different countries and cultures: the United States and China.

"We have rigorously documented the largest array of emotions that are universally felt through the language of music," says the study's senior author Prof. Dacher Keltner. The study findings now appear in PNAS.

2 different cultures, similar responses

For their study, the researchers recruited 1,591 participants from the U.S. and 1,258 participants from China, who listened to a total of 2,168 samples of different types of music.

A first experiment involved a subgroup of U.S. and Chinese participants who listened to a music library of 1,841 samples, which they rated on 11 scales assessing for broad affective features.

This primary investigation allowed the investigators to come up with a long list of possible emotional experiences that different types of music could evoke.

It also allowed the researchers to verify how participants from different cultures perceived the same subjective experiences that the music tracks elicited.

"People from different cultures can agree that a song is angry but can differ on whether that feeling is positive or negative," notes Cowen.

Further experiments eventually led the researchers to identify a range of 13 emotions associated with music, which participants from both countries recognized.

The categories were: amusing, annoying, anxious or tense, beautiful, calm or relaxing or serene, dreamy, energizing, erotic or desirous, indignant or defiant, joyful or cheerful, sad or depressing, scary or fearful, and triumphant or heroic.

Across the spectrum, songs such as the iconic "Rock the Casbah" from the '80s rock band The Clash made people feel more energized, and the same went for Antonio Vivaldi's Baroque masterpiece, "The Four Seasons."

Al Green's 1971 single, "Let's Stay Together," elicited erotic feelings, while Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's upbeat version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" made listening participants experience feelings of joy.

Participants tended to experience feelings of defiance when listening to heavy metal and, as the researchers had predicted, feelings of fear when they heard the track "The Murder" by Bernard Herrmann, which served as background music for the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho.

To make sure that participants from different cultures really did experience the same emotions when listening to certain types of music, the researchers also conducted a confirmation experiment that they had designed to eliminate, as far as possible, cultural biases.

This experiment involved asking participants to listen to more than 300 traditional instrumental tracks from both Western and Chinese cultures. The participants' responses confirmed the findings: Listeners from both the U.S. and China reported that these tracks evoked similar emotions.

"Music is a universal language, but we don't always pay enough attention to what it's saying and how it's being understood," notes Cowen.

"We wanted to take an important first step toward solving the mystery of how music can evoke so many nuanced emotions," he adds.

"Imagine organizing a massively eclectic music library by emotion and capturing the combination of feelings associated with each track. That's essentially what our study has done."

Alan Cowen

In the future, the researchers believe that their work may even have practical applications. It may help psychologists and psychiatrists develop better therapies involving music and better allow developers to program music streaming services to identify playlists that will fit the listener's current mood.

Original Article