Does everyone enjoy music? Apparently not: study

10 March 2014 - 11:56 By AFP Relaxnews
Music may not be the universal language after all.
Music may not be the universal language after all.
Image: AFP/©Orpheus/

While the hills may be alive with the sound of music for many, a new study finds this is hardly true of everybody.

A report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology found that not everyone cares for music. Such people are plenty capable of enjoying other pleasurable experiences, but they "just don't get" music the way most people do.

Researchers describe this condition as "specific musical anhedonia."

"The identification of these individuals could be very important to understanding the neural basis of music -- that is, to understand how a set of notes [is] translated into emotions," says Josep Marco-Pallarés of the University of Barcelona.

Researchers created a questionnaire for evaluating individual differences in musical enjoyment and found several explanations for "low music sensitivities." These include trouble perceiving music, or amusia. (Others, the scientists allow, may have had trouble with the questionnaire and answered the questions incorrectly.)

The research team carefully examined three groups of 10 people for the study, and each group featured those with low, average and high music sensitivity. Participants completed two experiments, one in which they had to rate enjoyment after listening to "pleasant" music, the other a monetary incentive delay task. For the latter, participants had to quickly respond to a target to win or avoid losing money.

Both experiments have shown dopamine production as well as reward-related neural circuit engagement. Researchers also tracked heart rate and changes of skin conductance response as physiologic indicators of emotion.

Results were quite clear: some happy, healthy people simply do not enjoy music. They show no autonomic responses to music despite the ability to perceive music as other people do. Such people still responded to monetary rewards, which indicates low music sensitivity isn't linked "to some global abnormality of the reward network."

However, researchers note findings may offer greater understanding of the reward system, which could benefit those struggling with addictions and affective disorders.

"The idea that people can be sensitive to one type of reward and not to another suggests that there might be different ways to access the reward system and that, for each person, some ways might be more effective than others," Marco-Pallarés says.

Click here to see the questionnaire.