• Spain's news in English
 

Scientists discover why some of us 'hate' music

Published: 07 Mar 2014 11:22 GMT+01:00

Rock, jazz, flamenco, or classical music: for some people it all sounds like so much noise.

While most people react to music emotionally, and with an increased heart rate and by sweating more, a small group don't feel a thing.

And while a lack of ability to enjoy everyday activities is generally considered a sign of depression, there is nothing wrong with these people. Instead they are suffering from researchers are calling specific musical anhedonia.

That's the finding of a new study carried out by a global team of researchers headed up by the University of Barcelona and Catalonia's Bellvitge Institute of Biological Investigation and published in Current Biology.

"We wanted to look at music because its something that exists across cultures and doesn't have a biological function," study author Josep Marco told The Local.   

"Music is also something instinctual, and very direct, and it's often assumed that everyone actually likes music. But we wanted to find out if that was actually true." 

To test this idea, researchers first used a web questionnaire to identify people who might have this lack of feeling for music.

Study participants were then asked to listen to music chosen by other university students. Among the pieces of music chosen were Puccini's Nessun Dorma, the Four Seasons of Vivaldi, and the theme song from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Pavarotti sings the aria Nessun Dorma from the Puccini opera Turandot

While listening, volunteers had to press a button depending on whether they didn't like the piece of music much, they liked it a lot, or it left them cold. 

"We found that some people didn't respond at all to the music," Marco said.

Researchers then looked at whether people who didn't respond to music emotionally had a problem with their neural reward system.

But an experiment which measured excitement about earning money showed these 'non-musical' people had an increased heart rate and sweated more. In other words they were healthy.

The findings suggest music has its own pathways in the rewards system, the scientists said.

"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," Marco said in a separate statement.

Some 1 to 5 percent of people suffer from specific musical anhedonia, the researchers estimate.

"We've had a lot of emails from people since the study was published saying 'I've never liked music, and people have always told me it was strange,'" Marco told The Local.

"But this is not an illness, and it's not something that needs to be 'fixed.'"

Don't miss stories about Spain, join The Local on Facebook and Twitter.

George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Greece crisis
'Democracy' the winner in Greece: Podemos
"Today in Greece democracy has won," said leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias. Photo: Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP

'Democracy' the winner in Greece: Podemos

The leader of Spain's leftist Podemos party on Sunday hailed results from Greece's referendum showing voters decisively rejecting creditors' bailout terms as a victory for democracy. READ  

Heatwave causes wildfire in northern Spain
Photo: Cesar Manso

Heatwave causes wildfire in northern Spain

A wildfire in northern Spain's Aragon region has ravaged around 8,000 hectares (19,700 acres) of pine and brush and forced some 1,500 people to evacuate their homes, local authorities said on Sunday. READ  

'High risk of terror attack' in Spain says Diaz
Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz. Photo: Dani Pozo / AFP

'High risk of terror attack' in Spain says Diaz

Spain is facing its highest level of terror threat since 2004 because of the danger posed by jihadists, said the country’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz on Sunday. READ  

 Barcelona struggles with rising tide of tourists
A group of tourists take pictures next to the Spanish architect Gaudi's Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona. Photo: Quique Garcia

Barcelona struggles with rising tide of tourists

Tourists are vital to Barcelona's economy, but the 27 million people who visit each year have become a headache for the new mayor as she battles to save the iconic Spanish Mediterranean port from becoming a bland theme park. READ  

Animal rights activists protest Spanish bull run
Activists of the PETA and Anima Naturalis pro-animal groups sporting horns during a protest against bullfighting and bull-running. Photo: Ander Gillenea/AFP

Animal rights activists protest Spanish bull run

About one hundred semi-naked animal rights activists covered in fake blood on Saturday protested against the upcoming famous bull run in the Spanish city of Pamplona. READ  

Leftist Spanish parties back 'No' Greek vote
Ahora Madrid (Madrid Now) member Rommy Arce (L) , IU member Alberto Garzon (C) and Podemos member Jaime Pastor, during a press conference in support of Greece in Madrid. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

Leftist Spanish parties back 'No' Greek vote

Six Spanish leftist parties and platforms have backed a "No" vote in Sunday's Greek referendum on its bailout terms. READ  

The Local list
6 reasons to love Woody Allen's favourite city
Woody Allen statue in Oviedo. Tony Madrid Photography / Flickr

6 reasons to love Woody Allen's favourite city

Woody Allen claims it as his favourite city in Spain, but the northern city of Oviedo remains one of the lesser explored of all the country's regional capitals. Here are six reasons why that should change. READ  

Woody Allen drops in on his favourite Spanish city
The US film director was in Oviedo, Asturias this week. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

Woody Allen drops in on his favourite Spanish city

While the US film director's first love is famously New York City, he chose to holiday this week in his second: the Asturian city of Oviedo. READ  

Catalonia independence movement loses support
Photo: AFP

Catalonia independence movement loses support

Support for an independent Catalonia is waning, according to a new public opinion poll, and only 42 percent would vote "yes" in a referendum on whether to split from Spain. READ  

Costa Brava beaches closed over shark fears
A stock photo of a blue shark, the species spotted on the Costa Brava on Thursday. Photo: Mark Conlin/Wikimedia

Costa Brava beaches closed over shark fears

Police on the Costa Brava were forced to close four beaches on Thursday after sharks were spotted in shallow waters. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Travel
What's on in Spain: July 2015
National
The ten most repressive points of Spain's gag law
National
Spain celebrates ten years of gay marriage
Travel
Top ten tricks to survive the Spanish summer
National
Woof! The top ten dog-friendly beaches in Spain
National
Driver fined €80 for biting fingernails at the wheel
National
Castle for sale, one-time pad of mad queen, €15 million
National
And the most beautiful plaza in Spain is...?
Politics
Spanish mayor's rogue little toes go viral
Top that! Italy snatches pizza title from Spain
National
Diphtheria is 'Russian roulette with real bullets'
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Politics
French PM takes flak for taking his kids on state jet to footy final
National
Spain's little 'prince' shamed for racist rant
National
Spain world's second best for work-life balance
Travel
Barcelona most bike-friendly city on the Med
National
British expat fury over EU referendum snub
Politics
Madrid goes mad for radical mayor Manuela
10 super Spanish drinks everyone should try
National
Are these Spain's ten most powerful women?
National
Horse deaths reveal dark side of Rocio pilgrimage
Travel
Six of the best gourmet burger joints in Madrid
Travel
The ten best places for foodies in Barcelona
Education
7 reasons for Spain's newfound love of English
Features
7 reasons why Spain's the best place on earth
National
The perks and quirks of having a baby in Spain
National
Iceland revokes order to 'kill Basques on sight'
National
Five reasons why it’s good to be gay in Spain
National
Job creation? The truth behind Spain's figures
National
Spain among ten best countries to be a mum
National
The ten greatest things about Spain (in the UK)
National
British expats fall victim to NHS clampdown
Features
Top ten: Madrid's best rooftop bars
Travel
Benidorm: Cultural wonder of the world?
National
King Juan Carlos led 'double-life' with lover
Features
Ten best UNESCO world heritage sites in Spain
Features
Happy book day! Top ten Spanish literary gifts
Features
All the fun of the fair: Seville's Feria de Abril
National
Off with her hair! Queen Letizia debuts new do
National
Barcelona bans tourists from famous market
National
Rockers pen 'We don't love Ryanair' ballad
Travel
Location tours start for 'Game of Thrones' fans
National
Top ten things to do in Castellón
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,353
jobs available