Science and Hindsight

science, money, drugs, music - and me

Why music gives you the chills

"Music-evoked frisson" is the shivering sensation down the spine when listening to music. It is associated with a pleasant tingling feeling, and goosebumps. However, not all listeners experience musical frisson, it is a feeling of which only about 50% of people are familiar with.

It has been observed that music-evoked frisson is more likely reported in female listeners over male listeners. In addition, those who experience chills are more likely to be less adventurous and thrill-seeking (making them more sensitive). Futhermore, the perception of chills is also correlated with musical interest.

Scientists have found that during music-evoked frisson, the amygdala (area of the brain associated with fear), is first activated, and then strongly inhibited. The initial activation of the amygdala causes the goosebumps and sensation of thrills. The following burst of inactivation is due to the cortex analyzing the music and concluding that there is nothing to be afraid of, and by doing so overrides the amygdala it and transforms the fear response into something positive.

So what is it in music that causes chills? It turns out that large increases in volume is the most important correlate of the chills. In addition, broadening of the frequency range (addition of low bass/high treble) is also correlated with chills. Musical corellates such as entry of additional instruments, voices, or melodies, and abrupt changes in tempo or rhythm can also bring out chills. It is interesting to note also that, sad music is twice as likely as happy music to elicit frisson.

For examples of pieces of music that are known to commonly elicit frisson, listen to:

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut

Arnold Schönberg - Transfigured Night



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