The Magic Of Music Isn't For All: Some Students Prefer Sex, Food, And Exercise

By Rhonda J. Miller on March 9, 2014 2:27 PM EDT

Music Is The Universal Language
Music is commonly considered a language that promotes emotion and harmony in individuals and groups in all cutlures, but a new study revealed a small percentage of college students who just don't find music particularly pleasurable. (Photo: Shutterstock / Rhonda J. Miller)

Music is commonly considered a universal language and often thought of as having transcendent properties.

"Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart," the renowned Spanish cellist Pablo Casals said. "Music will save the world."

While music may be poetically, or even literally, viewed as one way to save the world, some people just don't react emotionally to musical input, researchers found in a new study, "Dissociation Between Musical and Monetary Reward Responses in Specific Musical Anhedonia," published in the March issue of Current Biology. The research was conducted by Ernest Mas-Herrero of the Cognition and Brain Plasticity Group of Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute at L'Hospitalet de Llobregat in Barcelona, Spain, along with other researchers in Barcelona and Montreal, Quebec.

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Some individuals do not find music pleasurable, but enjoy other rewarding stimuli, the study found. The individuals in the study who did not find music particularly pleasurable did, however, have a response to music when a monetary reward was attached. Psychologists asked more than 1,000 college students about what they found rewarding for the study. From the group, researchers chose 10 students who found music less pleasurable than other choices, such as sex, exercise and food, according to Science. The students who did not find music particularly pleasurable were not tone deaf or unable to feel good emotions from music, they just didn't prefer it, the researchers found.

There are psychiatric disorders associated with the inability to feel pleasure, called anhedonia, but scientists in this study ruled out that overall diagnosis. The music study revealed a more focused result — the students did not feel pleasure from this one particular stimulant. Scientists theorize that between one percent and three percent of people suffer from the condition, called music-specific anhedonia.

The scientists offer a quiz to find out impact of music on individuals at http://www.brainvitge.org/bmrq.php.

Research on music is expanding in many segments of the social sciences and medicine. "Music is one of a small set of human cultural universals, evoking a wide range of emotions from exhilaration to relaxation, joy to sadness, fear to comfort and even combinations of these," according to Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist in the department of psychology at McGill University in Quebec, Canada. Levitin and Mona Lisa Chanda are authors of the study "The Neurochemistry of Music," published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences in April 2013.

"Many people use music to regulate mood and arousal, much as they use caffeine or alcohol," said Levitin. "Neurosurgeons use it to enhance concentration, armies to coordinate movements and increase cooperation, workers to improve attention and vigilance, and athletes to increase stamina and motivation." Levitin encourages the expanded study of music across disciplines to provide scientific documentation to the cultural wisdom.

"The notion that 'music is medicine' has roots that extend deep into human history through healing rituals practiced in pre-industrial, tribal-based societies," said Levitin. "In contemporary society, music continues to be used to promote health and well-being in clinical settings, such as for pain management, relaxation, psychotherapy and personal growth."

(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

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