Join

Enter Details

Comment on stories, receive email newsletters & alerts.

@
This is your permanent identity for Business Insider Australia
Your email must be valid for account activation
Minimum of 8 standard keyboard characters

Subscribe

Email newsletters but will contain a brief summary of our top stories and news alerts.

Forgotten Password

Enter Details


Back to log in

There's a biological reason why some people get chills down their spine when they listen to music and others don't

  • Music can send chills up some people’s spines and give them goosebumps.
  • According to new research, this could mean they experience more intense emotions.
  • Goosebumps are actually part of our fight or flight response.
  • It could be linked to our brains releasing dopamine, a reward hormone.

Some of us react more intensely to music than others. For some, listening to a certain track can send shivers down their spine, and goosebumps appear on their skin.

According to a new study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, there’s a deeper reason for this than some people simply appreciating music more than others.

The researchers studied 20 students, half of which reported experiencing chills when listening to music. They used Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) — MRI scans which map out the brain — to examine the differences between the two groups.

Those who reported chills had a denser volume of brain fibres that connect the sections that process auditory information and emotions. More fibres means you have more efficient processing between the two sections, explained Matthew Sachs, a co-author of the study from the University of Southern California.

He also concluded that those with these stronger connections may feel more intense emotions generally, not just when they are listening to music.

“Emotional reactions to aesthetic stimuli are intriguing experiences to humans as they are profoundly pleasurable and rewarding, yet highly individualized,” the study says. “Finding the behavioural and neural differences between individuals who do and do not experience such reactions may help gain a better understanding of the reward circuitry and the evolutionary significance of aesthetics for humans.”

Goosebumps are a fight or flight response

When you have intense emotions towards something, adrenaline is released and races through your body. According to Professor William Griffith, the head of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, they are basically a product of our fight or flight response.

This response is usually triggered when we are scared or feeling threatened, as adrenaline prepares our body to defend itself or run away. However, strong emotional reactions to other things, such as a passionate scene in a film or listening to your favourite song, can also cause us to have this reaction.

The reasons for this are unclear, but one theory is that adrenaline release could be linked to a surge of dopamine, one hormone involved in the body’s reward response.

Another study, conducted by researchers at the University of York, found that music could help us manage our emotions. The team wanted to find out how listening to selected music pieces could elicit emotional responses and also be enjoyed by listeners at the same time.

They found that playing “sad” songs counter-intuitively could make people happier.

“One of the most important motivations to engage in music listening is its emotional effect on us,” the team wrote on the York website.

“Listeners often report that they listen to music to calm them down, to stimulate them, to bring them into a positive mood, or to experience emotions like melancholy or nostalgia. Therefore, listening to the sound of music is unique way to experience and engage with different contrasting emotions, helping us to understand and regulate our mood according to many different situations. This makes music an important part of our overall mental wellbeing.”

NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.