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Some People Just Don’t Love Music

Music is a form of art that is comprised of sounds. It is often said that music is a universal language that everyone can enjoy regardless of time, age, gender and race. Listening to music makes us feel happy, sad, and excited. However, a new study, published in the journal Current Biology finds that music does not speak to everyone and there are people who simply don’t get music in the way the rest of us do. [1]

 boy listening to music

Indeed, there are people who really just don’t like music. *Image source: elsevier.com

The researchers refers to this inability to experience pleasure from music as specific musical anhedonia. The findings may lead to new insights of the reward system, with implications for pathologies including addiction and affective disorders.

One of the authors of the study, Josep Marco-Pallarés of the University of Barcelona says: “The identification of these individuals can be important to understand the neural basis of music—that is, to learn how a set of notes is translated into emotions.”

Marco-Pallarés and co-workers developed a questionnaire in 2013 to assess individual differences in musical reward—the experience of pleasure coming from music. [2] The researchers found that some individuals can experience pleasure from delicious food, sex and money, but they just don’t enjoy music.

The researchers recently conducted a study and selected some participants from 1,029 college students. They looked more closely at three groups of ten students, with each group consisting of students with high pleasure ratings in response to music, average pleasure ratings in response to music and low sensitivity to musical reward, respectively. The students were selected based on their comparable overall sensitivity to other types of rewards and their ability to perceive music.

The study included two different experiments:

  1. A music task: According to the approach proposed by Salimpoor et al. in 2009 [3], the participants had to rate the degree of pleasure they were experiencing when listening to some pleasant music;
  2. A monetary incentive delay task: In this task, the participants needed to respond promptly to a target to win or avoid losing real money. If one quickly and correctly answered a question, €2 would be given as reward, vice versa.

In the two experiments, the participants’ changes of skin conductance response and heart rate were recorded as physiologic indicator of emotion. In the meanwhile, the researchers also tested whether the participants activated their reward-related neural circuits and produced a rush of dopamine.

The results were very clear: some healthy and happy people just don’t enjoy music and can’t experience pleasure through music. The results also show that these individuals do respond to monetary rewards, suggesting that low sensitivity to music is not connected to some global abnormality of the reward network. Marco-Pallarés emphasizes: “For each person, some ways of reward might be more effective than others. There might be various ways to access the reward system for different people.”

The significance of this study is not limited to music and musical reward, we can view it from another angle: Why different people have different hobbies and be outstanding in some areas but not as good doing other jobs?

If you want to know how well you perceive music, and hope to experience the questionnaire used in the study, please visit: http://www.brainvitge.org/bmrq.php.


  1. Mas-Herrero, E., Marco-Pallares, J., Lorenzo-Seva, U., Zatorre, R.J.,and Rodriguez-Fornells, A. (2014). Dissociation between Musical and Monetary Reward Responses in Specific Musical Anhedonia. 24, 1-6.
  2. Mas-Herrero, E., Marco-Pallares, J., Lorenzo-Seva, U., Zatorre, R.J.,and Rodriguez-Fornells, A. (2013). Individual differences in Music Reward experiences. Music Percept. 31, 118–138.
  3. Salimpoor, V.N., Benovoy, M., Longo, G., Cooperstock, J.R., and Zatorre, R.J. (2009). The rewarding aspects of music listening are related to degree of emotional arousal. PLoS ONE 4, e7487.