By Annie Reuter
A new study shows that some people don’t actually have the ability to enjoy music.
In an interview with The Verge, Josep Marco-Pallerés, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Barcelona opened up about his new study which analyzes the dissociation between musical and monetary reward responses. According to Marco-Pallerés, there are people out there who feel completely indifferent to music.
“Music isn’t rewarding for them, even though other kinds of rewards, like money, are,” he said. “It just doesn’t affect them.”
Researchers studied 30 university students who had been identified as very sensitive to music, moderately sensitive or not sensitive at all after they answered a questionnaire. They then monitored each student’s heart rates and sweat levels during listening sessions which included familiar pieces of music.
“We asked them to bring music from home that they like,” Marco-Pallerés explained, “and most of them had problems doing that.”
Some involved in the study didn’t own any music at all, so they borrowed music from a family member. In his summary, Marco-Pallerés noted that his research found that for some, music has no source of pleasure.
“We identified a group of healthy individuals without depression or generalized anhedonia who showed reduced behavioral pleasure ratings and no autonomic responses to pleasurable music, despite having normal musical perception capacities,” he wrote in the study. “These persons showed preserved behavioral and physiological responses to monetary reward, indicating that the low sensitivity to music was not due to a global hypo function of the reward network.”
The study found that though many of the students could pinpoint when a song was happy or sad, they didn’t show any physical or emotional reaction to the song themselves.
“They didn’t shiver if a singer hit a high note, and their heart rate didn’t increase with each crescendo. But when asked to play a game involving a monetary reward, those who were indifferent to music reacted just like everyone else: the thought of winning even a small amount of money was enough to make their hearts race,” he observed.
Researchers have dubbed the condition “specific musical anhedonia.” But their research is far from over.
“Now that we know that there are people with specific musical anhedonia we want to know the neural bases that might explain [it],” Marco-Pallerés said.
He and other researchers plan to use a new experiment where they use functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore how the brain’s reward system is different in each of the students.
While there is no apparent disadvantage to being diagnosed with specific musical anhedonia, when someone tells you they just don’t like music, they might not be lying.