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Understanding music anhedonia, or why some people can’t enjoy songs




Six-year-old Emma Cordell listens to a new iPod on display at the Apple Store in San Francisco, California.
Six-year-old Emma Cordell listens to a new iPod on display at the Apple Store in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Recent neuroscience research suggests about 5 percent of the population experiences music anhedonia - meaning they do not derive pleasure from listening to any type of tunes - not pop, classical, jazz, rap, nothing.

Until recently, it was assumed that listening to music for pleasure was a universal, because the art form has been present in all human cultures since prehistory. In 2014, a group of scientists finally empirically tested the idea and found a group of healthy individuals with no autonomic responses to pleasurable music, despite having normal musical perception capacities.

(The research benefits our understanding of the brain's "reward centers" that govern so much of everyday behaviors.)

Researchers say it's possible that healthy people - as opposed to those who have suffered brain damage - with music anhedonia inherit the phenomenon from their parents.

As for medical patients who suddenly develop music anhedonia - due to brain damage after accidents, strokes, cancer - the change affects patients emotionally, as music is not just an everyday pleasure and escape, but has therapeutic potential for neurological patients.

If you have music anhedonia, what does it feel like? What is the emotional impact of music anhedonia?

Guest:

Amy Belfi, Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Psychology, New York University; Research focus: Neuroaesthetics of music, art, and poetry; she tweets from @oracleatbelfi