Who doesn't appreciate a good tune? Apparently, some people don't "get" music, researchers have found.
Although these people may be capable of experiencing pleasure in other ways — such as through food, money or sex — they don't enjoy music, according to a study published online today (March 6) in the journal Current Biology.
Scientists have long known about amusia, a specific impairment in music perception that can be either innate or acquired — for instance, as a result of brain damage. This impairment can prevent people from processing music in the way most people do. But the participants in the new study did not have amusia, and yet they were still indifferent to music, the researchers found.
"What we found was that there were people who specifically didn't enjoy music, but they enjoyed other kinds of rewards," said study author Josep Marco-Pallarés of the University of Barcelona.
The study's authors called this condition "specific musical anhedonia," an inability to experience pleasure from music. [10 Things You Didn't Know About the Brain]
In the study, the research team examined 30 people divided evenly into three groups. The participants were asked to do a music task and a so-called monetary-incentive-delay task. In the music task, participants listened to music that mostly included classical pieces composed by, for instance, Beethoven and Vivaldi, and rated how pleasant they found the music. In the monetary-incentive-delay task, participants were asked to respond in order to win or not lose between 20 eurocentsand 2 euros (about 25 cents to $2.75).
Both tasks are usually associated with inducing some sort of emotional reaction in the brain. To gauge the participants' emotional responses to the tasks, the researchers analyzed heart rate and skin conductance (a measure of how well the skin conducts electricity). When a person is experiencing strong emotions, they tend to sweat more, which increases their skin conductance.
It turns out that some of the participants were emotionally oblivious to the music they were listening to, but they reacted to the monetary-incentive-delay task. Interestingly, they were still able to tell what emotions the music was supposed to represent, Marco-Pallarés told Live Science.
The researchers are not sure why some of the participants were indifferent to music, he said.
"We know that these people can enjoy other rewards," Marco-Pallarés said.
However, the researchers do know that the same area in the brain, the so-called reward system, is activated when a person is enjoying music and other kinds of rewards, like money, he said.
"But probably, this system is connected to other function areas in the brain, and this might explain why they enjoy other rewards but not music," Marco-Pallarés said, adding that further research is needed to explain this finding.