From The New York Times:
When listening to sad music, then, there is a tension, or slippage, between the two types of emotions. How are we to understand this gap?
One answer might be that in everyday life we typically experience emotions that have a direct connection to whatever object or situation gives rise to them. But when we listen to sad music (or watch a sad movie, or read a sad novel), we are inoculated from any real threat or danger that the music (or movie or novel) represents.
If this is true, what we experience when we listen to sad music might be thought of as “vicarious emotions.” Here, there is no object or situation that induces emotion directly, as in regular life. Instead, the vicarious emotions are free from the essential unpleasantness of their genuine counterparts, while still drawing force from the similarity between the two.
We need to study vicarious emotions further. In doing so, we may be able to improve our understanding of a neglected feature of our emotional system — namely, its sensitivity to something other than palpable needs or threats. When we weep at the beauty of sad music, we experience a profound aspect of our emotional selves that may contain insights about the meaning and significance of artistic experience — and also about ourselves as human beings.
Continue reading the rest of the story on The New York Times