ScienceShot: Some People Just Don't Like Music

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ScienceShot: Sex, Drugs, but Not Rock 'n' Roll

Thomas is a news intern at Science.

If music is a universal language, it doesn’t speak to everyone. Psychologists asked more than 1000 college students what they found rewarding. Of those surveyed, the team selected 10 students who ranked music significantly less pleasurable than other choices provided, such as sex, exercise, and food. The researchers discovered that the students weren’t tone deaf or incapable of grasping the emotional meaning of a song—their brains simply didn’t find listening to music rewarding. To prove this point, the scientists gave the students two tests. In the first, the students were asked to listen to popular music and rate how pleasurable they considered each song. In the second, the students were given money for quickly pressing a target. A music-loving control group responded positively to both tests, whereas the 10 musically indifferent students enjoyed only the money reward test. While some psychiatric disorders are associated with the loss of the ability to feel pleasure, called anhedonia, the students represent the first evidence for not feeling pleasure from only one specific pleasing stimulant, the researchers report online today in Current Biology. The team suspects that between 1% and 3% of people suffer from the condition, called music-specific anhedonia. This musically apathetic group could help scientists better understand the neuroscience of the reward system, the team says. Curious where you fall on the music reward spectrum? The researchers have an online quiz.

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Posted in Biology, Brain & Behavior