The Actual Neuroscience Behind Why Some People Don't Like Music

We've all met someone who claimed not to love music. For most of us, the attitude is so foreign that it seems like it must just be a pose. But it turns out that, for some people, it's actually physically impossible to enjoy music.

Researchers at University of Barcelona recently published a new study that reveals certain people are physically unable to enjoy music. We're not talking about people who are tone deaf, hearing impaired or depressed, which would obviously impair musical enjoyment — either. Nor are we talking about people who don't enjoy specific genres, like old people with Eminem or New Yorkers with country. The study identified a new psychological phenomenon termed "specific musical anhedonia," which refers to the reduced ability to experience pleasure from music, specifically due to some odd wiring in the reward centers of the brain. That means no crying during "Someone Like You."


Participants in this experiment were asked to rate their reaction to music on a scale from "very sensitive" to "not sensitive." They were also asked to bring in their favorite music that produces the most vivid emotional response in them. Participants listened to this music while researchers monitored their vitals.

Listeners who claimed to be unresponsive to music sat bored. They did not shiver at crystal clear high notes or have their heart rate quicken with crescendos. Imagine someone sitting there with a blank expression while Pavortti delivers the last few lines of "Nessun Dorma."


It's somewhat unthinkable, but it happens.

And to prove that this really was a specific mental block, as far as music was concerned, the researchers had all the participants play a game involving a little cash reward. Here, the hearts of those unaffected by music were racing along with the rest of the group. Though they weren't excited by music, they were emotionally excited by money.


As it turns out, people with specific musical anhedonia can be very well adapted, happy people, in spite of their musical block. And it's probably a welcome break from a lot of sad songs.

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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