If Music Gives You Chills, It May be Because Your Brain is Special

Fagjun | Published 2017-11-19 11:31

If you get goosebumps when you listen to music, then it’s likely that your brain is wired differently. It also means that you have higher emotional intelligence than others.

Which songs can send a chill up your spine?



The French call it frisson. Think of a song, a movie, a book, a poem, or a piece of art that resonates with you. Do you feel goosebumps crawl across your skin and prick the back of your neck when you hear the first chords of a song you really love, or the first lines of a profoundly beautiful book? That is frisson--the chills you get when you see, hear, or experience something that tugs at something deep inside you, something you can’t even identify.


Sadly, it doesn’t actually happen to all of us. It’s possible that only about 55% of the population can experience frisson when experiencing something profoundly aesthetically pleasing. However, the goosebumps on your skin aren’t the only evidence that you experience something that almost half the population doesn’t.

Wires in the Brain

When you hear a song that's so good, and chills just wash over you



Scientists can also tell if you can experience frisson by looking at how your brain is literally wired differently. According to a new study, if you’re more prone experiencing frisson, then you may be more prone to feeling emotions more strongly.


A total of 20 students participated in the study, wherein the researchers asked them to listen to a number of different songs. Half of the participants reported feeling chills when listening to the songs. The researchers then used Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to examine the differences between the two different sets of participants.


“We found that people who reliably and frequently get the chills from music have more fibers connecting the auditory cortex to the emotional feeling and emotional processing states,” said Matt Sachs, one of the researchers of the study. Thus, these people are more likely to have higher emotional intelligence than those who do not experience the same chills.


“Finding the behavioural and neural differences between individuals who do and do not experience such reactions may help gain a better understanding of the reward circuitry and the evolutionary significance of aesthetics for humans,” the study says. Other studies have also found that people prone to frisson tend to have a more active imagination and tend to reflect more on their emotions.

Fight or Flight

Certain kinds of music can blow your mind.



Goosebumps or chills are actually a product of our body’s fight or flight response. When we feel an intense emotion about or toward something, we release adrenaline. Usually, this kind of response is triggered when we feel scared of threatened, but experiencing something moving--such as a very good song--can trigger a similar response in us. It’s unclear why this is, but it’s possible that there’s a connection between the release of adrenaline and the surge of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in the pleasure and reward centers of our brain.

So are there specific songs that can trigger frisson? No, but certain kinds of songs were found to be more likely to trigger this response. Songs that build up to an emotional climax, subvert expectations, or bring back certain emotional memories can send chills up a listener’s spine.

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