Musical Pleasure and Reward: Mechanisms and Dysfunction

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 Mar;1337:202-11. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12677.


Most people derive pleasure from music. Neuroimaging studies show that the reward system of the human brain is central to this experience. Specifically, the dorsal and ventral striatum release dopamine when listening to pleasurable music, and activity in these structures also codes the reward value of musical excerpts. Moreover, the striatum interacts with cortical mechanisms involved in perception and valuation of musical stimuli. Recent studies have begun to explore individual differences in the way that this complex system functions. Development of a questionnaire for music reward experiences has allowed the identification of separable factors associated with musical pleasure, described as music-seeking, emotion-evocation, mood regulation, sensorimotor, and social factors. Applying this questionnaire to a large sample uncovered approximately 5% of the population with low sensitivity to musical reward in the absence of generalized anhedonia or depression. Further study of this group revealed that there are individuals who respond normally both behaviorally and psychophysiologically to rewards other than music (e.g., monetary value) but do not experience pleasure from music despite normal music perception ability and preserved ability to identify intended emotions in musical passages. This specific music anhedonia bears further study, as it may shed light on the function and dysfunction of the reward system.

Keywords: anhedonia; emotion; reward system; striatum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anhedonia*
  • Arousal
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Motor Skills
  • Music*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Pleasure
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Reward*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Dopamine