"Goosebumps ran": How is music and physiology related

Published on June 29, 2016

"Goosebumps ran": How is music and physiology related

    Photo Mitchel Jones / CC

    Last month, Mitchell Colver, a graduate student at the University of Utah, wrote curious material for The Conversation magazine about where the goosebumps come from while listening to music. We studied it and decided to understand what this phenomenon is and why it arises.

    What we call goosebumps can be called differently: someone feels “chill on the back”, someone has a “goose-skin” and hairs on his arms stand on end. Usually we associate these feelings with fear or a strong unpleasant emotion, but in the case of music, these feelings are compared rather with an “ emotional chill ”. He was even given a special name - frisson (frisson), which in French means “shiver”, “shudder”.

    Friisson is a pleasant feeling, and music is one of the main reasons for its occurrence. However, not the only one - in addition to music, goosebumps can be caused by a work of art, a touching scene in a film, or even a natural phenomenon (no, this is not about a situation where you are just cold on the piercing wind).

    Studies have shown that about two thirds of the population experience a pleasant shiver from time to time — to be more precise, 55 to 86 percent of the population is affected .

    Reddit users even created a page on the site where they share triggers that cause goose bumps. Among the most soulful rollers there were noted, in particular, the performance of the US national anthem by the singer Lady Gaga at the opening of the Super Cup 2016 and the fan trailer of the original Star Wars trilogy.

    So what are goosebumps?

    Scientists have been investigating this effect for nearly half a century, but it still raises more questions than answers. Researchers have not yet succeeded in unraveling the goosebumps to the end, but numerous experiments have shown that Freesson is usually the body’s response to a dramatic change in the environment, especially in the music we listen to.

    That is, the matter is not so much in the beauty of music as in its contrast - as if our skin and brain react in the same way to different changes in their nature, be it “cold-hot”, “calm-danger” (they make sense, unpleasant) and in contrast to music.

    However, science is still truly unknown.why as a result of this “chill”, our skin is covered with “goosebumps”. Some scholars suggest that "goose bumps" are an evolutionary vestige left over from our distant (and more hairy) ancestors.

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    In this way, they warmed the body, creating an endothermic layer of warm air around the skin directly beneath the scalp. With a sharp change in temperature (for example, when a cool wind blows on a hot day), muscle contraction in the hair follicles temporarily lifts and then lowers the hairs on the skin, providing this protective warm layer. With the invention of clothing and the reduction of hair, the need for such thermoregulation disappeared, but the reflex remained.

    Who and when goose bumps run from the music?

    Amani El-Alayli, a professor of social psychology at Eastern Washington University, decided to find the answer to this question. He and a group of researchers, including the author of the article, Mitchell Colver, suggested that a person deeply immersed in thoughts in a musical work would be more likely to experience Freesson, since the trigger has a stronger influence on him. In addition, scientists have suggested that most often this effect is manifested in people with a certain type of personality.

    As part of the experiment, participants connected them to a special device that registers a galvanic skin reflex , namely the change in electrical resistance of human skin during physiological arousal, and offered to listen to fragments of various musical works.

    For the study were selected the following compositions:

    These compositions were not chosen randomly (some of them, by the way, were used in previous studies ) - in all passages there was a “climax”: tension grew, and then the character of the melody or rhythmic pattern changed, new instruments appeared.

    While listening to these works, the participants pressed a small button each time they felt “goosebumps” on their skin. Analyzing the results, the researchers came to two conclusions:

    1. Friisson can really be caused by music. The culminating moments of the compositions correspond to the states when the participant reported the appearance of "goosebumps" by pressing a button.

    2. People who are open are most likely to feel free.new experience. This helped to fix the special tests that the subjects underwent before the experiment. Each of the participants passed several tests fixing various character traits, however, the study revealed the greatest connection of the chills with openness to the new.

    Photo Ninac26 / CC

    This characteristic has been studied by scientists for quite some time. For example, research confirms that people with a similar ability have an unusually rich imagination, value beauty and nature, are looking for new impressions, often immerse themselves in their feelings and love diversity in life. The results of earlier studies also confirm the dependence of the appearance of the freesson on the “openness to experience”.

    However, there is little “openness” for the appearance of goosebumps. The study, in which the author of the material Mitchell Kolver took part (his results were published in the journal Psychology of Music on April 27, 2016), showed that it is important not only to perceive the new and listen thoughtlessly - people who are intellectually immersed in music feel “goosebumps” more often and stronger.

    In this case, “intellectual immersion” refers to the cognitive components of “openness to experience” - such as predicting how the melody will develop or the presentation of images.

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    Let us briefly add: according to our own (unscientific, but rather extensive) experience, goosebumps very much depend on how and on what the music is listened to. Remember your emotions at a symphony concert or at a performance of your favorite rock band - the feelings experienced there are unlikely to be compared with the situation when you hear your favorite melody on TV or on the radio - even if you try to listen thoughtfully and carefully.

    Unfortunately, we do not know what the participants in the experiment listened to and in what capacity. However, we are sure that the better the sound quality, the greater was the chance to experience the pleasure of listening - regardless of the emotional state or cognitive abilities of the subjects.

    That is why those who want to feel goosebumps should, first of all, think about finding their favorite songs in good quality (we talked about why this is important in several issues of the Sound podcast - 1 , 2 ).

    And also do not forget about the equipment - to feel the new facets of the sound, you do not need to buy a flagship stereo system: just select the appropriate player, high-quality headphones and, if necessary, an amplifier and / or DAC (how to do this and what combinations you can choose told here - 1 , 2 ).

    If you live in Moscow or St. Petersburg, just come with your recordings to our showrooms.and we will try to prove that goosebumps can be experienced both from the new and the unusual, and from listening to familiar songs that you would seem to know by heart.

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