You know that feeling when your skin tingles from hearing a certain song? Well it turns out that getting chills from music holds a significant meaning.
Have you ever heard a certain song, or a piece of music that made your skin tingle, or gave you chills down your spine, or even goosebumps?
For me, it’s a song by Italian pianist Edo Notarloberti.
As Mitchell Colver, currently an education Ph.D. candidate at Utah State University, recently wrote in The Conversation, that feeling is called frisson (though some scientists have called it “skin orgasms”). In part, it can be explained by the science of goose bumps: When mammals get chilly, the muscles around each hair follicle contract to help their body hair stand on end, creating a thicker layer to hold in heat. As we evolved, we lost most of the hair but kept the remnants of this mechanism; the muscles still work the same way, even if there’s no hair there to keep us warm.
Frisson is experienced by approximately 2/3 of the world’s population and “is a sensation somewhat like shivering, and is typically expressed as an overwhelming emotional response.”
A study, carried out by PHD student Matthew Sachs at the University of Southern California, has revealed that people who get chills from music might have structural differences in their brain.
The research studied 20 students, who listened to three to five pieces of music. Ten of the students admitted to feeling shivers, while the other ten didn’t. The researchers then took brain scans of all the participants.
“[The ten who felt shivers] have a higher volume of fibres that connect their auditory cortex to the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate better,” Matthew told Neuroscience News. These ten participants also had a higher prefrontal cortex, which is involved in certain areas of understanding, like interpreting a song’s meaning (Quartz).
“People who get the chills have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions,” Sachs said. “Right now, that’s just applied to music because the study focused on the auditory cortex. But it could be studied in different ways down the line,” he pointed out.
The study also found that people who are open to experience – as well as people who have more musical training – are more likely report strong emotional responses.
“We predicted that if a person were more cognitively immersed in a piece of music, then he or she might be more likely to experience frisson as a result of paying closer attention to the stimuli,” Colver wrote.
The participants also completed a personality test, which Colver and his team used to determine an interesting fact: those who experienced frisson possessed a personality trait called “openness to experience.”
“Studies have shown that people who possess this trait have unusually active imaginations, appreciate beauty and nature, seek out new experiences, often reflect deeply on their feelings, and love variety in life,” wrote Colver.
What’s more, is that Colver discovered it’s not solely the emotional side of this personality trait that causes a reaction to music- it’s the cognitive. For example, using your mind to imagine how a song will play out, or creating mental imagery during a song. It’s also a combination of these things and being pleasantly surprised when our expectations are exceeded.
To put it simply: people who completely immerse themselves in music on an intellectual level- those who do much more than merely ‘hear’ it- are more likely to experience the sensation of frisson.