Interpersonal relationships and preferences for mood-congruency in aesthetic experiences
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Prior research examining how negative feelings influence aesthetic preferences (e. g., liking of different kinds of music, movies, or stories) has reported inconsistent findings. This article proposes a theoretical argument to explain when people are more likely to prefer mood-congruent to mood-incongruent aesthetic stimuli. It is suggested that mood-congruent aesthetic experiences, for example, listening to sad songs when feeling sad, (a) serve as a surrogate for the mood-sharing often observed in empathic relationships and hence (b) are preferred when emotional distress comes from failing interpersonal relationships (vs. noninterpersonal events). Consistent with this proposition, people's preferences for mood-congruent music strongly correlate with their preferences for an empathic friend (experiment 1). Further, mood-congruent preferences significantly increase when people experience interpersonal (vs. noninterpersonal) distress, independent of emotional intensity, emotion type (sadness and frustration/anger), and normative issues (experiments 1-3). Further theoretical developments and future research are discussed.