We tend to think of musical enjoyment as universal – after all, music features in every culture around the globe, and even tiny babies love jiggling and giggling along to a beat. But this sweeping generalisation ignores the approximately 5 to 10 per cent of people, like you, who have ‘musical anhedonia’ and derive no pleasure from music. So you are certainly not alone.
People with musical anhedonia tend to be able to enjoy other aesthetic outlets, such as reading, films and art, and they don’t have a problem comprehending music. They just have no emotional response to it (people with ‘amusia’, in contrast, have difficulty recognising musical tones, but can still be emotionally moved by music).
Research into musical anhedonia is relatively new – the term was only coined in 2011. Initial findings suggest the roots of it lie with having weaker-than-usual connections between the auditory cortex and the brain’s reward centres, which are also involved in our enjoyment of food, sex and money.
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.