Music doesn’t speak to everyone, according to new research which disproves the old saying that music is a universal language.
There are people who experience pleasure in other ways but who don’t get music in the way the rest do.
The researchers, reporting their findings in the journal Current Biology, refer to this newly described condition as specific musical anhedonia, an inability to experience pleasure.
“The identification of these individuals could be very important to understanding the neural basis of music—that is, to understand how a set of notes [is] translated into emotions,” says Josep Marco-Pallarés of the University of Barcelona.
Three groups of ten people were studied with each group consisting of participants with high pleasure ratings in response to music, average pleasure ratings in response to music, or low sensitivity to musical reward.
The results were clear: some otherwise healthy and happy people do not enjoy music and show no autonomic responses to its sound, despite normal musical perception capacities.
Those people do respond to monetary rewards, which shows that low sensitivity to music isn’t tied to some global abnormality of the reward network.
“The idea that people can be sensitive to one type of reward and not to another suggests that there might be different ways to access the reward system and that, for each person, some ways might be more effective than others,” Marco-Pallarés says.
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