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New Study Examines Why Some People Enjoy Music While Others Do Not

Published November 22, 2019

New York, October 17, 2019 — Music frequently elicits intense emotional responses, a phenomenon that has been scrutinized from multiple disciplines that span the sciences and arts. While most people enjoy music and find it rewarding, there is substantial individual variability in the experience and degree of music‐induced reward.

This is the highlight of a recent study published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, by researchers from the University of Missouri and Northeastern University.  The capacity to perceive, produce, and appreciate music, together termed musicality, has been a growing topic of interest in the past 20 years of cognitive neuroscience.

While most cognitive neuroscience studies on musicality focus on music perception and production skills, "Musical anhedonia and rewards of music listening: current advances and a proposed model" focuses on specific musical anhedonia, a selective lack of pleasure from music. It examines past studies that explain why some people experience pleasure and others do not when listening to music. The researchers:

The researchers — Amy M. Belfi, from the University of Missouri, and Psyche Loui from Northeastern University — discovered humans’ experience of enjoying music follows along the dopamine paths and reward systems that motivate our desire for food or sex, or rewards like money. They also found that the absence of being able to appreciate music presents a unique model for understanding how the human brain works.

While many cognitive neuroscience studies that focus on people who skilled in music, the researchers were more interested in focusing on subjects with various skill levels. They found that some individuals had a condition called musical anhedonia, where they found no pleasure from music but still found joy from other things that activated the reward systems. The phenomenon opened up a new understanding of how the coupling between the auditory and reward systems works.

The researchers looked at psychophysiological, pharmacological, neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies. The full paper can be found here.

Note to editors:

If you are working on stories connected to neuroscience or music, and are interested in speaking with the corresponding author of this study, please contact:  Robert Birchard, RBirchard@nyas.org.

About the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences is an international science journal published bi-monthly as themed special issues in many areas of science, though predominantly the biological sciences. Each of twenty-four annual issues presents Original Research Articles and/or commissioned Review, Commentary, and Perspective Articles. Ann NY Acad Sci is a hybrid journal available in over 80 countries, is rigorously peer-reviewed, and is ranked among the top multidisciplinary journals worldwide.

About the New York Academy of Sciences

The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been driving innovative solutions to society's challenges by advancing scientific research, education, and policy. With more than 20,000 Members in 100 countries, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. Please visit us online at www.nyas.org and follow us on Twitter at @NYASciences.