Is This Normal? “I Hate Music”
In this series, we dig into our strange phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is This Normal?
Do you remember that scene from Dear Zindagi, where Alia Bhatt’s character couldn’t bear the sound of music playing in the background while on a date? I related to that — very, very much. I know so many people who love listening to music while they work, and my mind simply cannot comprehend how it’s even possible for anyone to do that — leave alone like it. To me, listening to music seems like a task in itself — and not a very enjoyable one at that, at least, most of the time.
Is this normal? Turns out, it kind of is.
People with hypersensitive hearing simply prefer silence to musical beats — since the latter can be distracting, and sometimes even painful. Our ears detect sounds as vibrations and, for a person with hyperacusis, or reduced tolerance to sound, the brain exaggerates these vibrations. This sensitivity, which can be a result of injuries to the head, damage to one or both ears, certain viral infections, or even neurodivergence, can make everyday sounds — like running water, car reversing, and music — painful to tolerate. Increased sensitivity to noises is also associated with being a highly sensitive person, or HSP, which 20% of the global population is believed to be.
Personally, while my hypersensitivity to sound may stem from my autism, research suggests that emotional exhaustion and exposure to stress can also lead people to become overly sensitive to noise — leading them to dislike music. Over the years, anecdotal evidence has also linked noise sensitivity to bipolar disorder. “My disorder affects my relationship to sounds — especially music — as much as it affects my mood,” explained Kevin, an individual living with bipolar disorder.
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But hypersensitivity to noise isn’t the only reason people dislike music.
In 2014, researchers identified musical anhedonia — a neurological condition (not a disorder) that prevents people from enjoying music, even though they do enjoy other pleasurable stimuli. In a musically anhedonic brain, which is present in 3-5% of the population, the auditory processing and reward centers show less-than-average connectivity, according to a 2016 study, resulting in reduced to no ability in people to derive pleasure from music.
“We found some of these individuals, there’s not very many of them but they do exist … They’re just indifferent to the music,” Dr. Robert Zatorre, a neurologist at the McGill University in Canada, who co-authored the 2016 study, told Huffington Post. “They’ve said to me, ‘All my life I thought I was weird, but now you’ve shown me that there are other people like me’,” he added.
While musical anhedonia prevents people from enjoying music, amusia can prevent people from recognizing music. Also called tone-deafness, tune-deafness, dysmelodia, or dysmusia, amusia can either be genetic or a result of accidental brain damage. Interestingly, while an amusical person can speak, they may be unable to sing.
Similarly, those living with musical agnosia, too, are unable to recognize music — or essentially, acknowledge pitch, rhythm, and notes, or even identify familiar songs. This is often acquired and, according to research, can be a result of lesions in the right or bilateral temporal lobes of the brain.
Not only am I not alone in my lack of appreciation for music, it appears there are, in fact, several other conditions that lead people to not care about music the same way the rest of the world seems to.
So, to echo what one of Dr. Zatorre’s study participants said: “I’m glad you’ve given us scientific proof, because now I can tell my friends to stop bugging me about music. It doesn’t do anything for me.”