Why Does Music Give Us The Chills?

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Do you ever get the chills when you listen to a certain track? There’s a whole science behind it.

We’ve all got those tracks that never fail to give us the chills when we listen to it.  I’ll admit that the first one that comes my mind is a song that had no business going this hard in a kid’s movie.

So what’s actually happening when songs give us the chills?

According to Dr Solange Glasser, a music psychology professor at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, music actually triggers the same parts of our brain that things like sex and drugs and food do.

“It’s the reward centre of our brain. So it often gives us that same craving feeling and then reward, like those other things do. So while we can be addicted to food or drugs or sex, we can also sort of be addicted to music, but in a really good way.”

Not only does music serve as a kind of addiction, it also has the added benefit of feeling like a “guilt-free” pleasure. That can help us feel immersed in the music and score all those wellbeing benefits.

For some, music can also feel like this otherworldly experience because it kind of is. “It’s something that’s kind of like this magical music is this magical thing that doesn’t really exist anywhere except for in our brains,” explains Eric J, a Grammy award-winning music producer. “It’s kind of like we’re actively partaking in the creation of the music just by the act of listening.”

While we can all experience musical differently according to our own brains, that feeling of awe and wellbeing you can get from music is a well-studied response called ‘frisson’.

As Dr Glasser puts it, “Frisson is a term that describes that psychophysiological response that we have in our bodies, like chills. We can get chills at the back of our neck or on our arms. We can have our pupils dilate. We can have all of these responses, like our heart rate might increase, that shows us that we’re having a feel-good response to the music that we are listening to.” Working with SONOS, Eric J also produced a track designed to make you get the chills, inspired by the research behind frisson.

Good music doesn’t always give us frisson, and we can, of course, still enjoy music without it. For me, it’s like a fun little treat that reminds me that I exist. And that’s always a plus.