Anhedonia vs Apathy: 5 Key differences


Anhedonia is a reduced ability or inability to derive pleasure from activities from which you previously derived pleasure. It has two main types:

1. Physical anhedonia

It’s the inability to derive pleasure from stimulating one or more of the five senses. For example, you may no longer find foods pleasurable that you previously found pleasurable.

2. Social anhedonia

It’s no longer being able to derive pleasure from social interactions and activities.

Conversely, apathy is a lack of motivation, desire, or interest to engage in activities. Hence:

Anhedonia: “I can’t feel good about this.”
Apathy: “I feel nothing about this.”

Both anhedonia and apathy are motivational disturbances, in that they reduce our motivation to engage with the world around us. They can occur independently or together. Both are symptoms of depression.1

What apathy is not

Apathy is not laziness. Laziness is the lack of energy to engage in activities you know are important. Apathy is a lack of motivation related to a lack of feeling, not a lack of energy. Apathetic people may well have lots of energy to engage in an activity, but they don’t care enough about it to do so.

Apathy is not emotional distress or boredom.2

Boredom is a negative emotion, or rather a negative mood since it tends to be low intensity. It motivates you to not engage in an activity that doesn’t pique your interest. Again, apathy is ‘no emotion’ vs. ‘negative emotion’. You can not care about things but don’t feel negatively about them.

Think about the activity

To clarify the distinction between the two concepts further, it helps us to focus on the activity to be done.

Apathy occurs before an activity that was supposed to get done but eventually doesn’t get done. An apathetic person’s lack of interest stops them from partaking in the activity.

Anhedonia occurs after an activity is done. An anhedonic person engages in the activity in hopes of getting pleasure because the activity was previously pleasurable.

However, because of depression or other conditions, the person no longer feels pleasure after doing the activity. This lack of pleasure motivates them to not engage in the activity in the future.

This lack of pleasure may also cause the person to stop caring about the activity. In this way, anhedonia can sometimes lead to apathy.

Differences summary

Point of differenceAnhedoniaApathy
DefinitionReduced ability or inability to experience pleasureLack of interest, motivation, or desire
EmotionsLack of positive emotionsLack of positive and negative emotions
Statements“I can’t feel good.”“I feel nothing.”
When it occursAfter doing an activityBefore an activity
ExamplesPhysical and social anhedoniaLack of interest in pursuing career and relational goals


  1. Petelin, D. S., Bairamova, S. P., Sorokina, O. Y., Niinoja, I. N., Lokshina, A. B., & Volel, B. A. (2022). Apathy, anhedonia and cognitive dysfunction: common symptoms of depression and neurological disorders. Neurology, Neuropsychiatry, Psychosomatics14(5), 96-102.
  2. Goldberg, Y. K., Eastwood, J. D., LaGuardia, J., & Danckert, J. (2011). Boredom: An emotional experience distinct from apathy, anhedonia, or depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology30(6), 647-666.