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About This ‘Aesthetic Chills’ You May Have Experienced While Listening To Your Favorite Song

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Are you one of these people who can feel it, who can have a skin reaction when listening to music that moves you? Do you get goose bumps and does your hair erect on your arms? There is a new study on this ‘aesthetic chills’ that researchers have even called ‘skin orgasm’ or ‘frisson’, which basically means chills in French.

I thought it was universal but studies show that only 2/3 of the population can experience it… and I had no idea some people can’t feel it. According to Sciencealert, studies have showed that about 55 percent to 86 percent of the population is able to experience the effect, but Mitchell Colver, Ph.D. Student at Utah State University, decided to find out even more.

This frisson can be experienced with all sorts of art forms but this is especially true for music, music is very emotional, at least some music can trigger such a response from the epidermis. We share this faculty to have goose bumps with all mammals as a response to cold but also to fear and stress. Have you ever seen a cat in the cold or facing a dog? Erected hair is supposed to keep the animal warmer or to make it bigger to scare the enemy, but in our case it is a vestigial reflex because raising our body’s hair is not gonna make any difference either in term of isolation against cold or in term of scaring off predators. But so far it isn’t very well understood how a pleasure experienced in the brain can be communicated to the skin and hair follicles.

To find out more about this subject, a team of researcher wired up participants 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’. Then, participants listened to several pieces of music such as 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. These particular pieces were chosen because they all contained ‘at least one thrilling moment that is known to cause frisson in listeners’. Participants were asked to report their experience by pressing a small button, which created a temporal log,… At the same time participants had completed a personality test.

What are the conclusions of this study? Participants who experienced frisson also scored high for a personality trait called Openness to Experience. A trait characteristic of people who ‘have unusually active imaginations, appreciate beauty and nature, seek out new experiences, often reflect deeply on their feelings, and love variety in life’. People scoring high for this trait are emotional (loving variety, appreciating beauty), but also a big part of their personality is cognitive (imagination, intellectual curiosity).

In other words, people who had goose bumps while listening to music, had a deep emotional reaction, but more importantly than the emotional part, it was people who were able to make mental predictions about how the music is going to unfold or engage in musical imagery (a way of processing music that combines listening with daydreaming), who were able to get the biggest frisson.

These findings were recently published in the journal Psychology of Music, and if you have anything to get from this study is that you must immerse yourself deeply into music, at an intellectual level, to get all the chances to experience this intense frisson.

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