If this music gives you goosebumps, you might have a special brain

19 June 2020, 15:25 | Updated: 19 June 2020, 15:30

Music shivers

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Think of your favourite piece of music, and think about how you might react to it.

If you’re having trouble, have a listen to this spine-tingling performance of ‘Lux Aeterna’, a vocal rendition of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’, by Voces8:

Did you feel chills, a lump in your throat, or perhaps a tingling sensation on the back of your neck? Then you might have a more unique brain than you think.

A study, carried out by PHD student Matthew Sachs at the University of Southern California, has revealed that people who get chills from music might have structural differences in their brain.

The research studied 20 students, who listened to three to five pieces of music. Ten of the students admitted to feeling shivers, while the other ten didn’t. The researchers then took brain scans of all the participants.

“[The ten who felt shivers] have a higher volume of fibres that connect their auditory cortex to the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate better,” Matthew told Neuroscience News. These ten participants also had a higher prefrontal cortex, which is involved in certain areas of understanding, like interpreting a song’s meaning (Quartz).

“People who get the chills have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions,” Sachs said. “Right now, that’s just applied to music because the study focused on the auditory cortex. But it could be studied in different ways down the line,” he pointed out.

The study also found that people who are open to experience – as well as people who have more musical training – are more likely report strong emotional responses.

If you didn’t feel chills at the first piece, have a listen to vocal group Árstídir singing an 800-year-old Icelandic hymn in a train station. It might just tease out a few goosebumps...

Read more about the study here.