Music is one of the few near-universal aspects of human experience. Every human society has some type of music culture, implying that musical performance might be an innate part of being human. Despite this fact, some people just don’t like music. While many people might be quick to balk at such a claim, a new study by Spanish and Canadian neuroscientists has revealed that there might indeed be a physiological basis for the fact that some individuals show little interest in music.
Researchers from three institutes – the University of Barcelona, the Montreal Neurological Institute, and Hospital of McGill University – gathered forty-five participants in a study to measure their brains’ reward responses when listening to music. The participants were given a Spotify playlist of forty classical music pieces to listen to, some of which were atonal or dissonant.
Using fMRI scans to measure neuronal activity, the scientists found that a small percentage of the test subjects’ brains showed decreased activity between the neural regions associated with auditory processing and the brain’s reward centers, a condition they have dubbed “specific musical adhedonia”:
[T]hese findings implicate cortical–subcortical interactions in relating auditory features to affective value, a conclusion that fits well with our findings that reductions in these interactions are associated with lack of affective response to music […] Individuals with specific musical anhedonia lack the relevant functional relationship between auditory processing regions and reward-related structure.
These results might prove once and for all that listening to music is indeed pleasurable for many individuals in a measurable neurological sense, and, conversely that music gives some individuals little to no pleasure. The researchers estimate that somewhere between three and five percent of the human population could suffer from specific musical anhedonia. Interestingly, the authors of this study suggest that this finding could also shed light on the mechanisms behind the phenomenon in which people living with autism spectrum disorders find little pleasure or connection with the human voice.