The Neuroscience of Music Enjoyment and Depression

music neuroscience

neuroscience music

When feeling down good music can cheer you up. But when depressed, I mean clinically depressed, can you enjoy music? How is music enjoyment processed by the brain and how is this influenced by depression?

All participants of this study enjoyed their favorite music more than the neutral music and depressed patients didn’t differ from the healthy subjects in scores for enjoyment of favorite music nor on the difference between the favorite and neutral music. On the fMRI the depressed patients showed less activation of parts of the brain: the medial orbital frontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens and the ventral striatum. In the pictures above you can see the areas more active in healthy controls compared to depressed patients.

These brain regions are known to be involved in reward processing in healthy controls. In depression the medial orbital frontal cortex shows dysfunction mainly hyperactivity. The lower difference in activation in depressed patients between neutral and favorite music listening can be explained by tonic hyperactivation of this region with consequent lack of signal change between the two conditions.

The nucleus accumbens and the ventral striatum also areas of reward processing are known to be affected during depression. Since the subjective rating of enjoyment of their favorite music was not significantly different the depressed patients differ in the processing of rewarding stimuli.

How was this study done?

investigated the use of an fMRI, passive musiclistening paradigm to evaluate the neurophysiological response to enjoying participant-specific, instrumental ‘favorite music’ versus ‘neutral music’ in healthy (n=15) and depressed patients (n=16). This paradigm took 10–12 min in the scanner and was not confounded by active decision making once scanning began.

From this research it’s concluded that in depressed patients the neurophysiological reward response is different from healthy subjects. depressed patients showed significant deficits in activation of the most important reward areas of the brain.
Can’t explain the fact that depressed patients scored their subjective liking of there favorite music comparable to healthy subjects. Remains a mystery to me since one of the characteristics of depression is the lack of experiencing pleasure at large and often also from music. Any suggestions?
Osuch, E., Bluhm, R., Williamson, P., Théberge, J., Densmore, M., & Neufeld, R. (2009). Brain activation to favorite music in healthy controls and depressed patients NeuroReport, 20 (13), 1204-1208 DOI: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832f4da3