Scientists find the amazing reason your favourite music gives you ‘chills’

3 November 2020, 13:24 | Updated: 4 November 2020, 09:11

Why does music give you 'chills'?
Why does music give you 'chills'? Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Now we know why our favourite music sends shivers down our spine.

Scientists say they have discovered why the melodies we love give us goosebumps.

A team of French researchers found that when we listen to our favourite music, the areas of the brain which handle emotion, movement, and processing music and sound work together to create a surge in dopamine levels – our ‘feel good’ chemical.

According to the study, our brains also try to anticipate what happens next in the song. And when we guess correctly, we get a reward.

Thibault Chabin, a PhD student at the University Burgundy Franche-Comté who led the study, said: “What is most intriguing is that music seems to have no biological benefit to us. However, the implication of dopamine and of the reward system in processing of musical pleasure suggests an ancestral function for music.

“This ancestral function may lie in the period of time we spend in anticipation of the ‘chill-inducing’ part of the music. As we wait, our brains are busy predicting the future and release dopamine.

“Evolutionarily speaking, being able to predict what will happen next is essential for survival.”

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The team of researchers, whose study was published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, carried out the experiment on 18 music-lovers with a range of musical abilities, who had all experienced chills when listening to music.

“Participants of our study were able to precisely indicate ‘chill-producing’ moments in the songs, but most musical chills occurred in many parts of the extracts and not only in the predicted moments,” says Chabin.

Side note, interestingly – or tragically, depending on your take! – only about half of people get chills when listening to music. Those who do, are considered to have an “enhanced ability to experience intense emotions”.

For Chabin’s study, the participants were hooked up to machines that record electrical activity in the brain, and they were played 90-second clips of their favourite songs.

While they were listening, the scientists watched what happened in their brains whenever the music gave them ‘chills’.

Read more: If this music gives you goosebumps, you might have a special brain >

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They spotted specific electrical activity in the region responsible for emotional processing; the region involved in movement control; and the area which handles music and sound appreciation.

These regions work together to process music and release the ‘feel-good’ hormone, dopamine. Combined with the anticipation that triggers those pleasurable ‘reward systems’, this produces the tingly chill participants felt while listening.

“This represents a good perspective for musical emotion research,” Chabin said.

“Musical pleasure is a very interesting phenomenon that deserves to be investigated further, in order to understand why music is rewarding and unlock why music is essential in human lives.”