Ever had that feeling where the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and you break out in goose bumps while listening to your favourite song?
If so, you’re not alone. However, according to a new study, individuals who get “chills” when listening to beautiful music are biologically different. As a result, they may even be considered special.
“It stemmed from a deep interest in intense, profound emotional responses, in particular those that come from music,” said Matthew Sachs, a graduate student at the University of Southern California who conducted the experiments at Harvard University.
He discovered that those that had managed to make the emotional and physical attachment to music actually have different brain structures than those that don’t.
For the research, 20 students, 10 of who reported feeling chills while listening to their favorite songs and 10 whom did not, took part.
The groups of volunteers had their brains and bodies monitored whilst being played an assortment of music. This enabled researchers to confirm that while all of the participants were music fans, only half of them experienced physiological responses to music.
Next, volunteers had their brains monitored using a brain-scanning technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). This highlights the connections between different parts of the brain.
Quartz reports that the team of researchers took brain scans of both groups. The students who reported the equivalent of “frission,” as it is known in the scientific community, were found to have a significantly higher number of neural connections between their auditory cortex, emotional processing centers, and prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is involved in higher-order cognition, such as interpreting a song’s meaning.
Sachs himself admits the study was small and that the phenomenon is difficult to research. After all, is not unusual for people to get chills from certain songs because they have unique memories tied to them. To prove more conclusively that people who connect with music are slightly different from a biological perspective, Sachs is conducting follow-up research that involves examining the patterns of activity in people’s brains as they listen to music that induces goosebumps. His hope is to understand more about what’s happening neurologically.
From an evolutionary standpoint, chills are a response to cold and danger. Said Sachs, “Our hair stands on end, and when we’re threatened, it makes us look larger.” Indeed, this is true.
“We think that the connectivity between the auditory cortex and these other regions is allowing music to have that profound emotional response in these people,” he added. “It’s very hard to know whether or not this is learned over time, or whether these people naturally had more fibres. All we can say is there are differences that might explain the behaviour we see.”
According to neuroscientist Jessica Grahn, who is studying music in neuroscience at Western University in Canada, people listen to music because it challenges them in similar ways going to a haunted house or a scary movie does. It provides entertainment and challenges evolutionary reactions.
Ready to test whether or not music will inspire “chills”?
Take this version of “What I’m Doing Here,” a song by Lake Street Dive, sung by Rachael Price.