a man wearing headphonesHave you ever met someone who does not seem to “get it” when you play them your favorite songs? It turns out there is a term for that: anhedonia. People with anhedonia are unable to experience pleasure from music. Researchers at the University of Barcelona investigated this phenomenon. They found that there are people who can perceive music properly and have otherwise normal responses to rewards who do not appreciate music on a neurological basis the same way that other people do. The findings could help researchers understand the underlying mechanisms of how music affects the brain.

The study was inspired by a questionnaire that evaluated individual responses to music-based reward. The results of the survey indicated that there could be some people with a low sensitivity to music. The researchers wanted to determine if this apparent low sensitivity might be due to amusia (problems in perceiving music) or participant error.

For the current study, the research team observed three groups of ten people with high, average, or low pleasure ratings in response to music, respectively. The participants completed two experiments while the researchers measured their skin conductance and heart rate. The first test was to rate the degree of enjoyment experienced while listening to pleasant music. For the second test, the participants did a monetary incentive delay task, playing to win or lose real money. This task tested whether the participants had normal responses to earning rewards.

According to the results, there are people who simply do not enjoy music but who are otherwise happy and responsive. These ahedonists were not affected by amusia and responded normally to monetary rewards, which rules out global abnormalities in the brain’s reward network as a cause of their low sensitivity to music.

Identifying this condition could help scientists understand the neural basis of music and how music is able to elicit emotions from humans. This research also has implications for understanding issues related to the brain’s reward system, such as addiction or affective disorders.

This research is published in the journal Current Biology.

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