The role of background music in the experience of watching YouTube videos about death and dying

  • Panagiotis Pentaris Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies, Goldsmiths University of London, London SE14 6NW, UK
  • Maria Yerosimou Department of Music, Goldsmiths University of London, London SE14 6NW, UK
Keywords: Background music; death; memorial videos; grief; YouTube


YouTube is the largest video sharing site live at the moment. It has been used to communicate a vast array of information, while it allows for user-generated content. This paper will focus on YouTube videos that communicate death, and in particular will present findings from a preliminary study undertaken by the authors considering the role that background music plays in these videos.

Specifically, this study explores the experiences of the viewers of death-related YouTube videos with and without background music while it makes comparisons in relation to the impact that music has on the viewers’ emotional experiences.

We conclude that background music elicits emotions and enhances feelings of sadness and sympathy in relation to the visual content of videos while recommendations for future research are made.


Bolwerk, C. A. L. (1990). Effects of relaxing music on state anxiety in myocardial infarction

patients. Critical Care Nursing Quarterly, 13(2), 63-72.

Bryman, A. (2012). Social Research Methods (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chang, X., Dale, C., & Liu, J. (2007). Understanding the characteristics of internet short

video sharing: YouTube as a case study. arXiv preprint arXiv:0707.3670.

Christensen, D.F., & Sandvik, K. (2014). Mediating and remediating death. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Toward understanding the relationship between feeling

states and social behavior. In: A. Hastorf & A.M. Isen (Eds.), Cognitive social

psychology (pp. 73-108). New York, NY: Elsevier.

Cohen, A.J. (2001). Music as a source of emotion in film. In: P. Juslin, & J. Sloboda (Eds.), Music and Emotion (pp. 249-272). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, A.J. (2000). Film music: perspectives from cognitive psychology. In: J. Buhler, C.

Flinn, & D. Neumeyer (Eds.), Music and cinema, Music/Culture (pp.360-377). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Cohen, A. J. (1999). The functions of music in multimedia: A cognitive approach. In: S.W. Yi (Ed.), Music, mind, and science (pp. 40-68). Seoul, Korea: Seoul National University Press.

Davis, W. B., & Thaut, M. H. (1989). The influence of preferred relaxing music on measures

of state anxiety, relaxation, and physiological responses. Journal of Music

Therapy, 26(4), 168-187.

Dissanayake, E. (2006). Ritual and Ritualization: Musical means of conveying and shaping

emotion in humans and other animals. In: S. Brown, & U. Voglsten (Eds.), Music and

manipulation: on the social uses and social control of music (pp.31-56). New York, NY: Berghahn Books.

Field, D., & Walter, T. (2003). Death and the media. Mortality Virtual Themed Issue, 1(4), 1-4.

Gardner, M. P. (1985). Mood states and consumer behavior: A critical review. Journal of

Consumer research, 12(3), 281-300.

Garrido, S., & Shubert, E. (2011). Individual differences in the enjoyment of negative

emotion in music: a literature review and experiment. Music Perception, 28(3), 279-

Gibson, M. (2007). Death and mourning in technologically mediated culture. Health

Sociology Review, 16(5), 415–424.

Gibson, M., & Altena, M. (2014). The digital lives of the dead: YouTube as a practice of cybermourning. In: D. Moser, & S. Dun (Eds.), A Digital Janus: looking forward,

looking back (pp. 15-27). Oxfordshire: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Lange, P. G. (2007). Publicly private and privately public: Social networking on YouTube. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 13(1), 361-380.

Li, X. M., Zhou, K. N., Yan, H., Wang, D. L., & Zhang, Y. P. (2012). Effects of music

therapy on anxiety of patients with breast cancer after radical mastectomy: a

randomized clinical trial. Journal of advanced nursing, 68(5), 1145-1155.

Mosco, V. (2004). The digital sublime. London and Cambridge: MIT Press.

Moser, D., & Dun, S. (2014). A Digital Janus: Looking Forward, Looking Back. Oxfordshire: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Pentaris, P. (2014). Memorial video tribute and the enfranchised grief of a gay widower. Thanatos, 3(2), 31-44.

Pentaris, P., & Yerosimou, M. (2014). Communicating death in YouTube videos: The

functional role of music. Journal of Education Culture and Society, 5(1), 206-217.

Silverman, D.(2011). Interpreting Qualitative Data: A guide to the principles of qualitative research (4th ed.). London: SAGE.

Smith, C. A., & Morris, L. W. (1977). Differential effects of stimulative and sedative music on anxiety, concentration, and performance. Psychological Reports, 41(3f), 1047- 1053.

Wahlberg, M. (2009). YouTube commemoration: Private grief and communal consolation. In: P. Snickars, & P. Vanderau (Eds.), The YouTube Reader (pp. 218-235). Lithuania: Logotipas.

YouTube (2009). In Memory Of Our Little Jack. Retrieved from

How to Cite
Pentaris, P., & Yerosimou, M. (2020). The role of background music in the experience of watching YouTube videos about death and dying. Journal of Education Culture and Society, 6(2), 305-319.