Why can good music raise goosebumps?

Why can good music raise goosebumps?

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Listening to really good music right now, I was wondering why it raises goosebumps.

Is there any physiological reason for this reaction to specific wavelengths or something?

Due sometimes strong vibration, roadwork for example, raise goosebumps too I reckon it's about the wavelengths but if someone could explain what is happening and why, that would be great.


Voluntary Piloerection: People Can Control Their Own Goosebumps

Goosebumps are a universal physical phenomenon induced by thrills and chills. The hair-raising experience is a result of adrenaline stimulating minuscule muscles that pull at the roots of our arm hairs — in turn, making us bristle with bumps. This happens when we’re cold, when we’re emotional, and, according to a pre-print paper released Thursday in PeerJ, when some people just feel like it.

The ability to create goosebumps at will is called “voluntary piloerection.” It is very rarely documented: There are only three single-individual cases studies published about people with this talent, and scientists don’t have a clue how to explain it. To rectify this, an international team led by Northeastern University post-doctoral researcher James Heathers, Ph.D., recruited self-described “voluntary piloerecters” through a Facebook group and conducted the first systematic investigation into the sensational skill by having each participant answer a series of personal questions.

There were consistencies across the answers of all 32 respondents, Heathers and his colleagues write, though they kept in mind that the data they were using were all self-reported. The participants overwhelmingly described piloerection as a physical, deliberate act, like lifting their arm than trying to make themselves cry. Other voluntary piloerection techniques included the sensation of flexing a muscle in the brain, tightening a muscle behind an ear, and just thinking about doing it.

Three-quarters of the respondents said that the goosebumps, once induced, began at the back of their head or neck, and 90 percent of the respondents said the goosebumps eventually showed up on their arms. Many of them discovered their skill as children, but some only realized they could do it after they came across the Facebook group and wanted to try it out. Despite those involved with the study, in general people with the skill are still very rare: In an attempt to test for the ability among 682 psychology students, the researchers found none of them were able to do it.

Voluntary piloerectors may have increased control over their goosebumps, but that’s not to say they’re completely divorced from the factors that drive goosebumps in the rest of us. Scientists reason that we get naturally get goosebumps when we’re scared or cold because it’s a survival technique that evolved as ancient humans’ bodies responded to fear and low temperatures by causing their body hair to stand on end, making individuals warmer and scarier-looking. Emotional experiences, like listening to music, gives us goosebumps too, and in some cases the “nice” goosebumps resulting from positive emotional experiences are referred to as a frisson or a skin orgasm — a rewarding effect of psychophysiological arousal.

Interestingly, three-quarters of the Facebook respondents in the study said that they deliberately triggered the bumps when they were engaging in an activity that naturally produces goosebumps for other people — emotional experiences like listening to music or having sex.

Though the study participants didn’t use emotion to trigger the bumps, the fact that they felt specific emotions after piloerection (in particular the feeling of awe), is evidence that some emotional connection remains. They also scored higher than average on a personality and emotion questionnaire testing for the trait of “openness”, which is in line with previous research showing that so-called “open” people are more likely to have involuntary goosebumps.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Heathers admitted that while piloerectors’ goosebumps are definitely consciously controlled, it’s still hard to grasp how it’s possible. The muscles that cause goosebumps are smooth muscles, he says, so by definition there should be no conscious control over them. He and his team hope to study someone with the ability in person soon so they can explore how emotion plays into this voluntary choice.

Altruism Articles & More

At GGSC’s recent awe conference, Melanie DeMore led the audience in a group sing as part of the day’s activities. Judging from participant responses, it was clear that something magical happened: We all felt closer and more connected because of that experience of singing together.

Why is singing such a powerful social glue? Most of us hear music from the moment we are born, often via lullabies, and through many of the most important occasions in our lives, from graduations to weddings to funerals. There is something about music that seems to bring us closer to each other and help us come together as a community.

There’s little question that humans are wired for music. Researchers recently discovered that we have a dedicated part of our brain for processing music, supporting the theory that it has a special, important function in our lives.

Listening to music and singing together has been shown in several studies to directly impact neuro-chemicals in the brain, many of which play a role in closeness and connection.

Now new research suggests that playing music or singing together may be particularly potent in bringing about social closeness through the release of endorphins.

In one study, researchers found that performing music—through singing, drumming, and dancing—all resulted in participants having higher pain thresholds (a proxy measure for increased endorphin release in the brain) in comparison to listening to music alone. In addition, the performance of music resulted in greater positive emotion, suggesting one pathway through which people feel closer to one another when playing music together is through endorphin release.

In another study, researchers compared the effects of singing together in a small choir (20-80 people) versus a larger choir (232 people) on measures of closeness and on pain thresholds. The researchers found that both choir groups increased their pain threshold levels after singing however, the larger group experienced bigger changes in social closeness after singing than the smaller group. This suggested to the researchers that endorphins produced in singing can act to draw large groups together quickly.

Music has also been linked to dopamine release, involved in regulating mood and craving behavior, which seems to predict music’s ability to bring us pleasure. Coupled with the effects on endorphins, music seems to make us feel good and connect with others, perhaps particularly when we make music ourselves.

But music is more than just a common pleasure. New studies reveal how it can work to create a sense of group identity.

In a series of ingenious studies, researchers Chris Loerch and Nathan Arbuckle studied how musical reactivity—how much one is affected by listening to music—is tied to group processes, such as one’s sense of belonging to a group, positive associations with ingroup members, bias toward outgroup members, and responses to group threat in various populations.

The researchers found that “musical reactivity is causally related to…basic social motivations” and that “reactivity to music is related to markers of successful group living.” In other words, music makes us affiliate with groups.

But how does music do this? Some researchers believe that it’s the rhythm in music that helps us to synch up our brains and coordinate our body movements with others, and that’s how the effects can be translated to a whole group. Research supports this thesis, by showing how coordinating movement through music increases our sense of community and prosocial behavior. Indeed, one study found two year olds synchronized their body movements to a drumbeat—more accurately to a human they could see than to a drum machine.

More on Music & Social Connections

Discover how playing music together can help kids develop empathy.

This tendency to synchronize seems to become only more important as we grow. In another study, adults listened to one of three types of music—rhythmic music, non-rhythmic music, or “white noise”—and then engaged in a task that involved cooperating and coordinating their movements. Those who listened to rhythmic music finished the tasks more efficiently than those who listened to the other types of sound, suggesting that rhythm in music promotes behaviors that are linked to social cohesion.

In another study, people seated side by side and asked to rock at a comfortable rate tended to coordinate better without music, but felt closer to one another when they did synchronize while listening to music. In a study by Scott Wiltermuth and Chip Heath of Stanford University, those who listened to music and coordinated their movements to the music were able to cooperate better and act more generously toward others when participating in economic games together (even in situations requiring personal loss for the good of the group, such as in the Public Goods Game).

All of this evidence helps confirm music’s place in augmenting our social relationships. Perhaps that’s why, when you want people to bond, music is a natural resource for making that happen. Whether at concerts, social events, or awe conferences, music can help us connect, cooperate, and care for each other. This suggests that, if we want to have a more harmonious society, we would do well to continue to include music in our—and our children’s—lives.

Why Does Music Give You Chills?

When your playlist strikes all the right chords, your body can go on a physiological joyride. Your heart rate increases. Your pupils dilate. Your body temperature rises. Blood redirects to your legs. Your cerebellum—mission control for body movement—becomes more active. Your brain flushes with dopamine and a tingly chill whisks down your back.

About 50 percent of people get chills when listening to music. Research shows that’s because music stimulates an ancient reward pathway in the brain, encouraging dopamine to flood the striatum—a part of the forebrain activated by addiction, reward, and motivation. Music, it seems, may affect our brains the same way that sex, gambling, and potato chips do.

Strangely, those dopamine levels can peak several seconds before the song’s special moment. That’s because your brain is a good listener—it’s constantly predicting what’s going to happen next. (Evolutionarily speaking, it’s a handy habit to have. Making good predictions is essential for survival.)

But music is tricky. It can be unpredictable, teasing our brains and keeping those dopamine triggers guessing. And that’s where the chills may come in. Because when you finally hear that long awaited chord, the striatum sighs with dopamine-soaked satisfaction and—BAM—you get the chills. The greater the build-up, the greater the chill.

Gray Areas

But there are competing theories. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, for example, discovered that sad music triggers chills more often than happy music. He argues that a melancholy tune activates an ancient, chill-inducing mechanism—a distress response our ancestors felt when separated from family. When a ballad makes us feel nostalgic or wistful, that evolutionary design kicks into gear.

What’s interesting about Panksepp’s theory, though, is that chills don’t sadden most people. The experience is overwhelmingly positive. Recent research shows that sad music actually evokes positive emotions—sadness experienced through art is more pleasant than the sadness you experience from a bad day at the office.

And this may hint at another theory. The amygdala, which processes your emotions, responds uniquely to music. A somber tune may activate a fear response in the amygdala, making your hair stand on end. When that happens, your brain quickly reviews whether there’s any real danger. When it realizes there’s nothing to worry about, that fear response becomes positive. The fear subsides but the chill remains.

Anything Goes

You can feel chills from any genre, whether it’s Mozart, Madonna, tango, or techno. It’s the structure—not the style—that counts. Goosebumps most often occur when something unexpected happens: A new instrument enters, the form shifts, the volume suddenly dims. It’s all about the element of surprise.

The most powerful chills may occur when you know what’s coming next. When our expectations are being met, the nucleus accumbens becomes more active. This ties back to that dopamine-inducing guessing game our brain likes to play. As a result, being familiar can enhance the thrill of the chill. (Perhaps that’s why 90 percent of musicians report feeling chills.)

Your personality matters, too. Scientists at UNC Greensboro found that people who are more open to new experiences are more likely to feel a quiver down their spine (possibly because open individuals are more likely to play instruments). Meanwhile, researchers in Germany found that people who felt chills were less likely to be thrill seekers, but were more reward-driven.

I’ve got chills – they’re multiplying

When we listen to pleasurable music, the “pleasure chemical” dopamine is released in the striatum, a key part of the brain’s reward system.

Importantly, music activates the striatum just like other rewarding stimuli, such as food and sex. During anticipation of the peak – or “hotspot” as music psychologist John Sloboda calls it – in the music, dopamine is released in the dorsal (or upper) striatum.

During the peak, when we experience chills and other signs that our body’s autonomic nervous system – responsible for regulating involuntary body functions – is being aroused, dopamine is released in the nearby ventral striatum.

So what’s going on in the brains of music anhedonics?

The authors offer a neurobiological explanation. While many types of pleasurable stimuli activate the same broad reward circuit in the brain, there are some differences depending on the type of stimulus. It is possible that the pattern of brain regions specifically activated by music pleasure, including the connection from auditory regions which perceive music to the reward centres, are slightly different in these individuals than in other people.

This isn’t unusual as we know that there can be enormous differences in how rewarding (and potentially addictive) other rewards such as food, sex, money and drugs can be to different individuals, but it is rare to get no pleasurable response to these rewards. Is the story more complex then?

Why Can’t I Cry?

You're probably wondering why there are some times that you just can't cry even though you really want to. If physical issues with the tear glands aren't the issue, the source of crying difficulties likely lies somewhere else — and it's very common. "As a therapist, I have heard this statement many times from my patients over the years," psychotherapist Annie Wright, LMFT, tells Bustle. Depression can be a factor, as it can cause people to experience emotional changes. Clinical depression, Wright says, can come with "a flattened affect that doesn't allow people to physically feel their feelings (despite a mental conception that they should feel sad)". This challenges a myth about depression — that it just means feeling sad all the time — when, in reality, some people with depression don't connect with their emotions at all. A 2002 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that people who are depressed don’t actually cry more often than people who aren’t, but they might not get the same benefits from crying, like catharsis or feeling a sense of clarity after.

In some cases, even identifying the urge to cry can be a challenge. Psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, L.C.S.W, tells Bustle that emotional crying requires being in touch with your feelings, and people who repress or disconnect from their emotions may not recognize their internal triggers for tears. "We may not realize that we’re sad, because we are not attuned to our emotions," she says. "We may know that something uncomfortable is going on within, but not be able to label it as sadness."

Favourite music evokes same feelings as good food or drugs

Ever had goosebumps or felt euphoric chills when listening to a piece of music? If so, your brain is reacting to the music in the same way as it would to some delicious food or a psychoactive drug such as cocaine, according to scientists.

The experience of pleasure is mediated in all these situations by the release of the brain's reward chemical, dopamine, according to results of experiments carried out by a team led by Valorie Salimpoor of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, which are published today in Nature Neuroscience.

Music seems to tap into the circuitry in the brain that has evolved to drive human motivation – any time we do something our brains want us to do again, dopamine is released into these circuits. "Now we're showing that this ancient reward system that's involved in biologically adaptive behaviours is being tapped into by a cognitive reward," said Salimpoor.

She said music provided an intellectual reward, because the listener has to follow the sequence of notes to appreciate it. "A single tone won't be pleasurable in isolation. However, a series of single tones arranged in time can become some of the most pleasurable experiences that humans have ever reported. That's amazing because it suggests that somehow our cerebral cortex is following these tones over time and there must be a component of build-up, anticipation, expectation."

In the experiment, participants chose instrumental pieces of music that gave them goosebumps, but which had no specific memories attached to them. Lyrics were banned because the researchers did not want their results confounded by any associations participants might have had to the words they heard.

The pieces chosen ranged from classical to rock, punk and electronic dance music. "One piece of music kept coming up for different people – Barber's Adagio for Strings," said Salimpoor. It was the favourite classical piece and a remix of the tune was the most popular in the dance, trance and techno genres.

As the participants listened to their music, Salimpoor's team measured a range of physiological factors including heart rate and increases in respiration and sweating. She found that the participants had a 6-9% relative increase in their dopamine levels when compared with a control condition in which the participants listened to each other's choices of music. "One person experienced a 21% increase. That demonstrates that, for some people, it can be really intensely pleasurable," she said.

In previous studies with psychoactive drugs such as cocaine, Salimpoor said relative dopamine increases in the brain had been above 22%, while a relative increase of up to 6% was experienced when eating pleasurable meals.

Salimpoor and her colleagues concluded: "If music-induced emotional states can lead to dopamine release, as our findings indicate, it may begin to explain why musical experiences are so valued. These results further speak to why music can be effectively used in rituals, marketing or film to manipulate hedonistic states. Our findings provide neurochemical evidence that intense emotional responses to music involve ancient reward circuitry and serve as a starting point for more detailed investigations of the biological substrates that underlie abstract forms of pleasure."

Why Does Great Music Give You the Chills?

Have you ever been listening to a great piece of music and felt a chill run up your spine? Or goosebumps tickle your arms and shoulders?

The experience is called frisson (pronounced free-sawn), a French term meaning “aesthetic chills,” and it feels like waves of pleasure running all over your skin. Some researchers have even dubbed it a “skin orgasm.”

Listening to emotionally moving music is the most common trigger of frisson, but some feel it while looking at beautiful artwork, watching a particularly moving scene in a movie, or having physical contact with another person. Studies have shown that roughly two-thirds of the population feels frisson, and frisson-loving Reddit users have even created a subreddit to share their favorite frisson-causing media.

But why do some people experience frisson and not others?

Working in the lab of Dr. Amani El-Alayli, a professor of social psychology at Eastern Washington University, I decided to find out.

While scientists are still unlocking the secrets of this phenomenon, a large body of research over the past five decades has traced the origins of frisson to how we emotionally react to unexpected stimuli in our environment, particularly music.

Musical passages that include unexpected harmonies, sudden changes in volume, or the moving entrance of a soloist are particularly common triggers for frisson because they violate listeners’ expectations in a positive way, similar to what occurred during the 2009 debut performance of the unassuming Susan Boyle on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

If a violin soloist is playing a particularly moving passage that builds up to a beautiful high note, the listener might find this climactic moment emotionally charged and feel a thrill from witnessing the successful execution of such a difficult piece.

But science is still trying to catch up with why this thrill results in goosebumps in the first place.

Some scientists have suggested that goosebumps are an evolutionary holdover from our early (hairier) ancestors, who kept themselves warm through an endothermic layer of heat they retained immediately beneath the hairs of their skin. Experiencing goosebumps after a rapid change in temperature (like being exposed to an unexpectedly cool breeze on a sunny day) temporarily raises and then lowers those hairs, resetting this layer of warmth.

Since we invented clothing, humans have had less of a need for this endothermic layer of heat. But the physiological structure is still in place, and it may have been rewired to produce aesthetic chills as a reaction to emotionally moving stimuli, like great beauty in art or nature.

Research regarding the prevalence of frisson has varied widely, with studies showing anywhere between 55 percent and 86 percent of the population being able to experience the effect.

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. And we suspected that whether or not someone would become cognitively immersed in a piece of music in the first place would be a result of his or her personality type.

To test this hypothesis, participants were brought into the lab and wired up to an instrument that measures galvanic skin response, a measure of how the electrical resistance of people’s skin changes when they become physiologically aroused. Participants were then invited to listen to several pieces of music as lab assistants monitored their responses to the music in real time.

Examples of pieces used in the study include:

  • The first two minutes and 11 seconds of J.S. Bach’s “St. John’s Passion: Part 1—Herr, unser Herrscher”
  • The first two minutes and 18 seconds of “Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1: II”
  • The first 53 seconds of Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All”
  • The first three minutes and 21 seconds of Vangelis’ “Mythodea: Movement 6”
  • The first two minutes of Hans Zimmer’s “Oogway Ascends”

Each of these pieces contains at least one thrilling moment known to cause frisson in listeners (several have been used in previous studies). For example, in the Bach piece, the tension built up by the orchestra during the first 80 seconds is finally released by the entrance of the choir—a particularly charged moment that’s likely to elicit frisson.

As participants listened to these pieces of music, lab assistants asked them to report their experiences of frisson by pressing a small button, which created a temporal log of each listening session.

By comparing this data to the physiological measures, and to a personality test the participants had completed, we were—for the first time—able to draw some unique conclusions about why frisson might be happening more often for some listeners than others.

Results from the personality test showed that the listeners who experienced frisson also scored high for 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. Some aspects of this trait are inherently emotional (loving variety, appreciating beauty), while others are cognitive (imagination, intellectual curiosity).

While previous research had connected openness to experience with frisson, most researchers had concluded that listeners were experiencing frisson as a result of a deeply emotional reaction they were having to the music.

In contrast, the results of our study show it’s the cognitive components of openness to experience—such as making mental predictions about how the music is going to unfold or engaging in musical imagery (a way of processing music that combines listening with daydreaming)—that are associated with frisson to a greater degree than the emotional components.

These findings, recently published in the journal Psychology of Music, indicate that those who intellectually immerse themselves in music (rather than just letting it flow over them) might experience frisson more often and more intensely than others.

And if you’re one of the lucky people who can feel it, the frisson group on Reddit has identified Lady Gaga’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 2016 Super Bowl, and a fanmade trailer for the original Star Wars trilogy, as especially chill-inducing.

The mysterious appeal of too loud music

Yellow: Hearing. Brown: Balance. The saccule is neither.

The greatest mystery surrounding too loud music, though, are not people seeking it in quiet environments such as the bus or the office. The strangest thing is the appeal of too loud environments even when one plugs the ears. It has become more and more common to go to rock concerts with ear plugs. The obvious question is why people don’t just refrain from going to rock concerts all together and wait until concert organisers realise that they overdid it with the decibel levels.

Seeking intimacy through loudness

The final piece of the puzzle could be an idea exemplified in research done by Russo and colleagues from Ryerson University. They found that ordinary people could successfully distinguish piano, cello and trombone tones which they never heard but instead only felt on their backs. Even deaf people were able to do this. This research suggests that, yet again, the involvement of a second modality explains too loud music seeking. Hearing and vision are often grouped together because they reveal distant information. Smell, taste and touch, on the other hand, are intimate sensations only available when directly interacting with an object or person. If someone sees or hears your fiancé(e) you may not mind. But imagine if someone tried to touch or even taste him/her? There is something intimate about touch and perhaps we seek this intimacy when trying to immerse ourselves in music. Incidentally, this is also what was advertised as the novelty of Felix Baumgartner’s jump. For the first time someone can say what it felt like to break the sound barrier. Previously, people only knew what it sounded and looked like. Somehow, this was not enough. We are curious about what he will report because we attach so much importance to the immediacy of touch. For ‘touching’ music, we need loud music as our skin is a poor substitute for the sensitive ears. Through the sense of touch music can cease to be felt at a distance and, instead, become a much more personal full body experience.
Has the mystery been solved? It seems as if modern psychology offers a range of explanations for why a perfectly avoidable but harmful activity is pursued by millions of people. Loud music offers a level of energy, fun and intimacy which soft music just can’t match. If you listen to too loud music, you have more in common with daredevils like Baumgartner than you thought.

Dean, R.T., Bailes, F., & Schubert, E. (2011). Acoustic intensity causes perceived changes in arousal levels in music: an experimental investigation. PloS one, 6 (4) PMID: 21533095

Lamont, A. (2003). Toddlers’ musical preferences: musical preference and musical memory in the early years. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999 , 518-9 PMID: 14681176

Russo, F.A., Ammirante, P., & Fels, D.I. (2012). Vibrotactile discrimination of musical timbre. Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance, 38 (4), 822-6 PMID: 22708743

Todd, N.P. McAngus, & Cody, F.W. (2000). Vestibular responses to loud dance music: A physiological basis of the ‘rock and roll threshold’? Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 107 (1), 496-500 DOI: 10.1121/1.428317

Zhao, F., Manchaiah, VK., French, D., & Price, S.M. (2010). Music exposure and hearing disorders: an overview. International journal of audiology, 49 (1), 54-64 PMID: 20001447

1) Photograph by: Felix Baumgartner, Twitter via the Vancouver Sun

2) The Vestibular System by Thomas Haslwanter via Wikimedia

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Consistent chills

A key element of the study was to measure the release of dopamine, when the participants were feeling their highest emotional response to the music.

To achieve this, researchers marked when participants felt a shiver down the spine of the sort that many people feel in response to a favourite piece of music.

This "chill" or "musical frisson" pinpointed when the volunteers were feeling maxim pleasure.

The scans showed increased endogenous dopamine transmission when the participants felt a "chill". Conversely, when they were listening to music which did not produce a "chill", less dopamine was released.

Dr Robert Zatorre said: "We needed to be sure that we could find people who experienced chills very consistently and reliably.

"That is because once we put them in the scanner, if they did not get chills then we would have nothing to measure.

"The other factor that was important is that we wanted to eliminate any potential confound from verbal associations, so we used only instrumental music.

"This also eliminated many of the original sample of people because the music they brought in that gave them chills had lyrics."

Watch the video: Wann erzeugt Musik bei uns eine Gänsehaut? 8. Osnabrücker Wissensforum (May 2022).