This article originally appeared on Broadly.
Nobody likes me if I cry. That Tegan and Sara lyric represents a broad genre of emotionally raw music known as emo. Obviously there are other bands and emo styles—from Bright Eyes to My Chemical Romance. Regardless, the genre has oft been subject to criticism by people who think it makes sadness even sadder. In a new study, "Group Rumination: Social Interactions Around Music in People with Depression," researchers investigated the effects that self-selected sad music had on people with depression when they listened to it in group settings.
The study's authors note, in a very appropriately emo manner, that research has shown crying in public to be psychologically beneficial. "The question thus arises as to whether the sharing of sad music in group contexts holds similar benefits for members of the group," they write. The study surveyed 697 people from the internet (where emos live), who were asked to complete a questionnaire about the types of music they listen to, how they listen to it, and how they feel when doing so. They were also asked to complete a survey measuring the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
According to the study's findings, there are two distinct patterns of group listening behaviors: "listening to sad music and talking about sad things," and "listening to inspiring music and discussing music and life more generally." Those who engaged in the former behavior were more likely to report feeling depressed after listening to music in a group, whereas the latter was associated with people emerging from the group listening experience feeling good.
"While young people with tendencies to depression who are a part of social groups may be perceived as receiving valuable social support," the researchers explained, "our results here suggest that the positive impacts of such group interactions are reliant on the types of processes occurring in the group."
The harshest criticism of emo music has been made in the wake of terrible events, such as when two girls committed suicide and were found to be deeply into the emo scene. But the researchers of this new study make pains to avoid demonizing emo music itself. "Neither certain genres of music themselves nor the sub-cultures associated with them can be blamed for situations in which music appears to have played a role in youth suicides," they explain. "However, susceptible individuals with a predilection for rumination [a maladaptive focus on negative thoughts] may be most likely to suffer negative outcomes from group rumination, with social feedback deepening and exacerbating negative thoughts and feelings."
Amy, a self-identified emo who was heavily involved in the scene from age 11 through high school, agrees with this conclusion. "There's a fine line between being a hormonal teen going through some shit and being clinically depressed," she tells Broadly. "Emo music can help that—but it can also heighten things, and unless you have a support system that can be dangerous."
The study suggests that "group interactions that provide social support or opportunities for processing of emotions in a constructive way have a much higher likelihood of being positive." Russ, another emo, considers that to be the case. "I think that using emo for catharsis is helpful, but wallowing is the opposite," he said. Russ remains emo today, even though he isn't depressed anymore. "I still listen to emo, he told me. I love it. A lot of my favorite bands fall into various flavors of emo. It's therapy; it's expression."
Photo by Fickr User Jason Rogers .