London - Few things can stir the emotions like a piece of music – an experience that was thought to be shared by all.
But it turns out that some are completely immune to its charms.
Scientists at the University of Barcelona in Spain have discovered that a minority of people who are perfectly able to experience pleasure in other ways simply don’t “get” music.
The new condition, which has been named musical anhedonia, was found by scientist Josep Marco-Pallares.
He said: “The identification of these individuals could be very important to understanding how a set of notes is translated into emotions.”
In research on how we respond to rewards, he found those left unmoved by music could still find pleasure in other ways, such as winning money.
He added: “There might be different ways to access the reward system. Some might be more effective than others.”
The researchers previously found hints about this form of anhedonia after they developed a questionnaire to evaluate individual differences in musical reward.
The evaluations found some people who reported low sensitivity to music but average sensitivity to other kinds of reward.
However, multiple explanations are possible for these low music sensitivities.
For instance, some people might seem to dislike music because they have trouble perceiving it, a condition called amusia.
For the current study, the research team decided to look more closely at three groups of 10 people, with each group consisting of participants with high pleasure ratings in response to music, average pleasure ratings in response to music, or low sensitivity to musical reward, respectively.
They were chosen based on their comparable overall sensitivity to other types of rewards and their ability to perceive music.
They took part in two different experiments: a music task, in which they had to rate the degree of pleasure they were experiencing while listening to pleasant music, and a monetary incentive delay task, in which they had to respond quickly to a target in order to win or avoid losing real money.
Both tasks have been shown to engage reward-related neural circuits and produce a rush of dopamine.
Meanwhile, the researchers recorded changes of skin conductance response and heart rate as physiologic indicators of emotion.
The results were clear: some otherwise healthy and happy people do not enjoy music and show no autonomic responses to its sound, despite normal musical perception capacities.
Those people do respond to monetary rewards, which shows that low sensitivity to music isn't tied to some global abnormality of the reward network.
The researchers say their findings might lead to new understandings of the reward system, with implications for pathologies including addiction and affective disorders.
Marco-Pallarés added: “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.” - Daily Mail