A new scientific study was released on Nov. 3, 2020 that explains why music can quite literally give people chills while listening to it. The study explains how and why people experience these chills while listening to certain music.
The Frontiers in Neuroscience journal released an article titled, “Cortical Patterns of Pleasurable Musical Chills Revealed by High-Density EEG” that goes into depth on this topic. Researchers are trying to understand this by studying brain activity behind these chills people experience. They believe they are getting closer to understanding why music makes us feel pleasure.
The study focused on 18 people comprising 11 women and 7 men, 10 of which were amateur musicians themselves. The study originally had 23 participants but three participants reported one or zero instances of chills during the experiment, and for two participants not enough EEG epochs free from artifacts were recorded so they were ultimately left out of the study.
The study was conducted with participants each picking five songs ahead of time that they knew often gave them the sense of chills. The scientists provided the participants with three neutral songs to listen to as a control group to compare the reactions the participants gave to the songs they brought in. The participants were told to sit back and close their eyes, and listened to the music through wireless headphones while scientists monitored their brain activity using an EEG. As the participants listened and got chills an average of 16.9 times each. Each chilling moment lasted for 8.75 seconds.
So why does this matter? What is the big deal about these chills? The big deal is when these participants listened to songs they brought that gave them the chills they had an increase in theta waves (a wave of brain activity that follows regular oscillations) in the orbitofrontal cortex. This area of the brain is associated with emotional processing. The scientists performing the study also found patterns of activity in two other brain regions: the supplementary motor area, a region of the brain involved in motor control, and the right temporal lobe, which is involved in interpreting non-verbal communication, like music.
The scientists and authors of the study believe that the increase in theta wave power participants experienced on the surface-level which then signals a two-pronged reward response which happened deep in the brain. This buildup of theta wave power eventually releases dopamine in the participants systems and gives them those happy chills.