Study finds if music gives you goosebumps, your brain is pretty special

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Nicola Rachel Colyer

Much has been said about the power of music, from it’s ability to control the way in which we shop to providing the ultimate environment for relaxation. And while pretty much all of us have that favourite song that we just can’t hear enough, it turns out that some of us experience music in a much deeper way than others. 

Matthew Sachs, now a postgraduate student at the University of Southern California, conducted a study while at Harvard University into the differing physiological impact of listening to music between individuals, in particular looking at why some people report getting the “chills”, i.e. a tingling sensation on the scalp, back of the neck and spine that is often accompanied by goosebumps.

It turns out, if the dulcet tones of your favourite singer or the all-encompassing beat of your most-loved tune gives your more than a mere pleasant auditory experience, your brain may be wired in a special way.

The study looked at the responses of 20 students, 10 of whom had previously experienced the chills when listening to music and 10 that never had. Each participant submitted 3–5 pieces of music; for the “chills group”, these were pieces that reliably induced chills, and for the “no-chill group”, these were the pieces they found most pleasurable. The participants then underwent brain scans before and after listening to the music.

goosebumps chills music study brain

A sign of deeper emotional experiences

The researchers discovered that those that experienced a heightened physiological response to the music not only had a different reaction to those that didn’t, but that they actually have a different brain structure.

According to The Independent, those in the “chills group” tended to have a denser volume of fibres that connected their auditory cortex and areas that process emotions, which resulted in the two areas communicating better.

Putting it simply, Sachs explained to that “people who get the chills have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions”.

The study also found that people who are open to experience and have more musical training were more likely to report strong emotional responses and suggested that “social–emotional communication through the auditory channel may offer an evolutionary basis for music making as an aesthetically rewarding function in humans.”

Images: iStock


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Nicola Rachel Colyer

Nicola Colyer is a freelance writer and ex-corporate girl. A francophile and relapsing sugar-free graduate, she'll often be found seeking out the best places for brunch or struggling to choose between a green juice and a G&T.

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