Some people just don't get music. They won't have a favorite playlist, turn the radio up, or jam with a DJ.
In fact, researchers have revealed in a new study that this inability to find pleasure in tunes is a psychological condition called musical anhedonia.
"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," study co-author Dr. Josep Marco-Pallarés, an associate professor at the University of Barcelona in Spain, said in a written statement.
Previous studies suggest that most humans have a genetic predisposition to respond to music, and music is universal to all human cultures. Simply listening to music can release endorphins in your brain, which are chemicals that trigger positive feelings.
But that might not be the case for everybody.
Using a questionnaire about how rewarding people find music, the researchers found some men and women reported not enjoying music as much as other kinds of experiences. The researchers thought these people might have a condition called amusia, which is the inability to process pitch altogether, but they decided to take a closer look.
They asked three groups of 10 people to take part in follow-up experiments. Some people said they got a lot of pleasure from listening music, some found it moderately pleasurable, while others said they did not get much pleasure from it.
First, the men and women listened to music and rated how much pleasure they were experiencing from it. In another task, they had to respond quickly to a target in order to win and avoid losing real money. Both tasks have been shown to involve reward circuits in the brain as well as produce a rush of dopamine. During the tasks, the researchers recorded physiological responses, such as heart rate and sweating.
What was found? The group of people who reported not finding music rewarding also showed no physiological response to music -- that is, their heart rate and sweat responses did not spike. In comparison, the people who found pleasure in music did show a physiological response to it. However, there was no difference between the three groups when it came to finding the money task rewarding -- they all exhibited similar reaction times, increased heart rates, and an increased sweat response.
"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 said in the statement.
The researchers said their findings may lead to a better understanding of the brain's reward system and even shed light on addiction and mood disorders.
The study was published in the journal Current Biology on March 6.