People who ‘can’t get no satisfaction’ from music may actually be suffering from a disconnection in their brain, according to new research.
Researchers found people that get little pleasure from music, who are known as musical anhedonics, show less activity in the ‘reward centre’ of the brain when songs are playing.
But musical anhedonics are able to respond to other enjoyable activities like gambling, which suggests there could be a missing link between their reward centre and the brain region which controls processing sounds.
The condition is believed to affect up to five per cent of the population.
Psychology PhD student Noelia Martínez-Molina, who led the study, said: “Although music is ubiquitous in human societies, there are some people for whom music holds no reward value despite normal perceptual ability and preserved reward-related responses in other domains.”
As part of the study at the University of Barcelona, Spain, researchers recruited 45 healthy people who completed a questionnaire measuring their level of sensitivity to music and then divided them into three groups based on their responses.
The participants were then asked to listen to music while lying inside an MRI scanner.
Scientists used the scanner to measure activity in the reward centre of the participants’ brains.
They found that people who said they didn’t enjoy music showed a reduction in the activity of the nucleus accumbens, a key region in the reward centre of the brain, when songs were playing.
In contrast, people who said they liked music showed enhanced activity in the reward centre.
Researchers also analysed the brains of the music anhedonics while they were gambling to check if their reward centres could respond to other pleasurable activities.
Dr Martínez-Molina said: “We demonstrate that the music anhedonic participants showed selective reduction of activity for music in the nucleus accumbens, but normal activation levels for a monetary gambling task.”
The researchers said the fact musical anhedonics are able to respond to enjoyable activities other than music suggests there could be a missing link between the areas in their brains that control sound and pleasure.
Previous studies have shown that children on the autistic spectrum, who do not find the human voice to be pleasurable, experience a similar disconnection between the brain regions that control sound processing and pleasure.
Dr Robert Zatorre, a researcher from Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Canada, who co-authored the study, said: “These findings not only help us to understand individual variability in the way the reward system functions, but also can be applied to the development of therapies for treatment of reward-related disorders, including apathy, depression, and addiction.”
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.