When Music Gives You “The Chills”

I love music. I try to spend as much of my day as possible listening to a multitude of artists and bands, singles and full albums. To me, the best feeling in the world is when you’re listening to an amazing song, and then it hits you—the goosebumps. The sensation of getting goosebumps while listening to good music is such a universal phenomenon that it has led scientists to actually research the causes behind it. So, why exactly does good music cause us to feel goosebumps? Are different types of music more likely to induce goosebumps than others?

The word “goosebumps” is actually just a name for the physical reaction to a larger experience. The whole experience is known as frisson, which is a French term that refers to a sudden feeling of excitement. In frisson, the excited feeling produces a shudder in the body, causing goosebumps to occur. According to this article, goosebumps are believed to have been very important to our ancestors, helping to keep heat in a thick layer of fur. However, it is pretty useless for humans today, as we no longer have fur. The same article states that goosebumps are physiological and occur when the hormone adrenaline is released, which happens when we are stressed or feeling particularly strong emotions.

goosebumps-885563_960_720This may indicate why we still get goosebumps today, and why they occur when we listen to music. According to research, music evokes strong emotions in people. In this study, it was found that listening to music releases dopamine, which transmits neurons in the brain when things make us happy. What was unique about this study, however, was that the dopamine released in the same area of the brain where the brain processes rewards. This means that music is quite literally a rewarding activity for us.

So, music clearly has the ability to impact our mood, and when we have a strong, sudden, change in emotions, we get goosebumps. The link seems pretty clear in that regard. However, are there certain types of music that trigger this change in emotions, or “the chills”? Contrary to what you might think, research has shown that it is actually sad music that more commonly causes people to experience goosebumps. According to this article, a study published in a Japanese journal found that sad music causes people to experience more positive emotions. During the study, 44 people were split into two groups: one group listened to a happy song and the other group listened to a sad song. After listening, the participants were asked to report how they felt after the song, and those in the sad song group actually reported feeling both negative and positive emotions, creating a stronger impression overall. If it produces a more powerful feeling, this may explain why sad music would induce goosebumps.

While scientists are not 100% certain what causes goosebumps while listening to music (although we are never completely positive of anything in science), research indicates that there could be a link between unexpected and emotions and the onset of goosebumps. By altering our mood drastically, music triggers that physical response. It certainly is one of the more interesting little phenomena in our world.

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7 thoughts on “When Music Gives You “The Chills”

  1. Katherine Guerney

    I found you blog post really interesting because I also really love music and have noticed getting the goosebumps occasionally. You explained how more powerful and unexpected feelings could trigger the goosebumps, which made me wonder if certain music can spark memories that we have which would give us goosebumps. Also since everyone has different music tastes, and generations tend to follow certain music trends, I think it would be cool if an experiment was performed to see if adults got goosebumps from different songs than children.

  2. Jeffrey Sherman

    I found this blog particularly interesting as someone who does not experience goosebumps as a result of listening to music, but through reading a book. While it’s not that I do not like music, I simply find it difficult to keep up to date with current artists and the multitude of songs that are released quite often. When reading, I sometimes experience goosebumps when I come across a particularly emotionally tense scene. I think these processes must be quite similar, as according to your research, this response is normally brought on upon by an unexpected emotional response, something that frequently happens in reading when something particularly unexpected happens.

    1. Margaret Eppinger Post author

      I think that’s pretty interesting that you get the same reaction from books. Now that I think about it, I feel as though I have as well. I’ve even gotten goosebumps from movies and TV shows before. I wonder if there’s something about certain media that just triggers these kinds of emotional reactions in us. I think consuming media is something that our brains find pretty rewarding, so maybe that has something to do with it. I’d be interested to see studies comparing the amount of goosebumps people get across different forms of media, like do people experience them more often while listening to music or reading a book or watching a movie.

  3. Zachary Cope

    What a great read, I learned a lot of new and interesting facts from this blog. I too sometimes get goosebumps when listening to music. It usually occurs when I listen to a song that I don’t recognize at first, but then a really memorable/awesome part drops that I remember from the last time and I get so pumped and happy. Music is definitely a great force that has the ability to change one’s emotions in a blink of an eye. After reading this article, I have come to question many other things about music, like why does my singing sound so much better in the shower? Also why do certain songs get stuck in my head versus other songs? It’s definitely an interesting topic.

    1. Margaret Eppinger Post author

      I think that last question you posed would make a really interesting study. Why do certain songs get stuck in your head? I’ve always wondered the same thing. Maybe there’s a certain kind of science to making a song that gets stuck in people’s heads, like it could have something to do with certain notes or the way a song is composed. There’s actually been research to suggest that there is a definite art to creating a pop song, which is why a lot of them sound eerily similar. Are the two related?

  4. Wesley Scott Alexander

    I thought this blog was really interesting. I too love listening to music and there is nothing better than listening to music that you truly love and enjoy. I never thought of the phenomenon behind getting “goosebumps” from music, but I think it is great that you thought of this and did the research into finding out why. I wrote a blog post about how music affects our emotions, take a look at it if you’re interested!

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