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Musical anhedonia, or Not everyone likes music [translation]

To the sides of both unmanned spacecraft with the same name “Voyager” (eng. Voyager), launched in 1977, are attached identical round aluminum boxes with gold-plated disks on which images are applied. The goal of the Voyager mission is to introduce us to possible extraterrestrials and show the diversity of life and culture on planet Earth.

“The spacecraft will turn on the phonogram if it encounters advanced civilizations in interstellar space. The moment of playing this “bottle” in the cosmic ocean will be a very exciting and hopeful message about life on our planet,” Carl Sagan was sure.
A special Commission headed by Sagan selected the content of the audio disc for NASA. Karl and his team collected 115 images and a range of sounds, including: the sound of surf and wind, thunder, birds singing, whales crying, footsteps and laughter of people, greetings in 55 different languages, and also known as a universal means of communication — music. The Voyager Gold record contains works by Bach (performed by Glenn Gould), Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Azerbaijani folk music, Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck berry, and many others.
Music is not only a universal language, but is also considered one of the most enjoyable stimuli known to man. The existence of music has been documented since prehistoric times in all cultures and on all continents. However, recent research shows that such pleasure is not as universal as it seemed. And there are a lot of people who are disgusted by the sound of music: they do not have a favorite artist, and listening to the radio, in life will not stop on the wave where the music is playing.The psychological state during which getting pleasure from music is impossible, recent research has actually defined as “musical anhedonia”. For people affected by this condition, music is something akin to boredom — at best. Or something annoying and distracting, so that they never feel any positive feelings while listening to music.
Professor Jose Marco Pallares from the University of Barcelona is one of those who worked on the project on the anhedonia. For him, identifying people who suffer from this disorder is important as an understanding of the neural basis for music, as well as for understanding how a combination of notes is interpreted into emotions in a person’s mind.
Earlier research has shown that most people have a genetic predisposition to perceive music, and popular songs and symphonies usually elicit an emotional response. The effect of music on our behavior is dictated by the release of endorphins into the brain. These molecules are peptides produced by the nervous system and have a structural similarity to opiates. Endogenous opiates suppress feelings of pain and create feelings of euphoria and pleasure (similar to the exogenous opioids found in heroin and morphine).In addition, naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist-a drug aimed at treating alcohol and opium addiction — causes reversible musical anhedonia, suppressing both positive and negative emotions. Endogenous opioids are crucial for experiencing both positive and negative emotions in music. Moreover, music brings pleasure, just like food, drugs, and sex.
Researchers from Barcelona did a survey to find out exactly how different people feel about music. As a result of the survey, it became clear that both men and women, according to their statements, do not like music as much as other types of stimulants or emotional experiences. At first, researchers thought that these people may have a disorder called “Amusia” (loss of the ability to understand and perform music), but then found out that everything is much more complicated.For the study, 30 volunteers were selected and divided into three groups of 10 people: the first ten said that they felt great pleasure from listening to music, the other 10 said that the feeling was positive, but not intense — rather, moderate pleasure that fits into the standard assessment of music. Another 10 people said that the music was not particularly pleasant to them.
In the first part of the experiment, the volunteers had to listen to music and enjoy the process. The music consisted of thirteen pieces selected by the researchers and three more pieces selected by the volunteers themselves. The next task was to quickly answer questions from the test. In previous experiments, we saw that both tasks stimulated the release of dopamine, which is an important part of the”reward system”. During these tasks, the researchers recorded some of the participants ‘ physiological responses, such as heart palpitations and sweating.
The group of Marco Palares found that people who do not particularly like music, did not show any physiological reaction to what they heard, that is, they did not have any changes in heart rate or sweating. While the changes in the autonomic nervous system of those who liked to listen to music were obvious.However, when the response to financial reward was checked, there was no difference — all three groups showed the same reaction in terms of time and physiological indicators: increased heart rate and increased sweating. The researchers also noticed that those who didn’t care about music reacted to other forms of reward (not just money, but also food, sex, or petting).

In the second experiment, a research team from Barcelona studied possible correlations between musical anhedonia and connections in the brain. They used MRI in three groups of 15 participants, each with a different sensitivity to musical reward from the previous experiment.Compared to the rest of the population, people with musical anhedonia showed a selective decrease in activity in the nucleus accumbens while listening to music, but a normal level during gambling tasks. In addition, this same group demonstrated a lower functional relationship between the right auditory cortex and the ventral part of the striatum, including the nucleus accumbens. Conversely, those who enjoyed music had more connections between these two brain regions.Thus, musical anhedonia may be associated with a decrease in the interaction between the auditory cortex and the reward system, which indicates the key role of this interaction for the enjoyment of music.In fact, a 63-year-old right-handed professional choir conductor developed musical anhedonia after a hemorrhage at the base of the forebrain (putamen). He stopped experiencing emotions when listening to music: MRI of the brain and tractography revealed an old hemorrhagic lesion in the right putamen and a violation of the connective fibers between the right Insula and the upper temporal lobe. These data suggest that musical anhedonia may be caused by a gap between the Insula and the auditory cortex.The idea is that the reward system is specific: people who don’t respond to music respond to other types of stimulation — for example, monetary rewards. Therefore, people with musical anhedonia do not experience complete atrophy of this “reward system”, but the stimulators that cause the reaction are individual for each. This suggests that there are different ways to access the reward system, and everyone’s response depends more or less on the incentive, although everyone seems to respond the same way to money!Understanding the reward system is important because it underlies certain disorders and behavioral disorders, such as various addictions and mood disorders. Musical anhedonia is quite common. According to the results of the experiment of Marco Palares, there should be about 5.5% of people with anhedonia on the planet.

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