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Science Says: Why Music Gives Us the Chills

Brains are so cool

We love it when science tells us more about our relationship with music. We were especially excited when it told us with hard evidence that dancing is good for us. This next piece of information may not be a question that plagues your everyday existence, but is one that scientists have long wondered about: Why do half to two-thirds of us experience chills up our spine when listening to certain music?

Ladies and gentlemen, we may finally have our answer! This sensation is considered to be the result of a release of dopamine rushing through your body. The technical term for these chills is “frissons” or a “skin orgasm.” To look into this further, scientists selected a group comprised of 10 people who experience the chills from music regularly, and 10 people who had never experienced it. Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans, which show the density of nerve fibers between regions, scientists were able to look at the connections between certain areas of the brain.

Subjects listened to musical selections from Coldplay and Wagner, and even marching band music, all while under the DTI scanning machine. The scans were then evaluated for differences between those who feel chills and those who don’t.

Judging by the DTI scans, those who experience chills had a higher density of nerve fibers between the auditory area of the brain where one hears the music, and the part of the brain that monitors emotions and the anterior insular cortex, which is involved in processing feelings. 

Do you get the chills when listening to music? What song is guaranteed to give you the chills, every time?

h/t Smithsonian Mag