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Neuroscience study reveals what happens in the brain when music gives us chills

For some dance music fans, Bassnectar just does it for them. For others, it’s Eric Pyrdz. Regardless of the producer or genre, when the perfect sounds co-mingle and merge, many music fans will experience goose bumps, spine tingling, and skin chills. Some even get the same sensation in the high points in a film or from looking a piece of art they deeply connect with.

Despite a half to two-thirds of the population who’ve reported having this hair-raising reaction, scientists have never been able to determine quite why. Past research has suggested that “the chills” occur when the neurotransmitter dopamine floods the body. But the connection between the outside stimuli and chemical release still was unclear — and long debated.

Until now. According to a new study, published in the journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, details what happens neurologically when music causes dopamine releases akin to those invoked by sex or drugs. These psychophysiological responses are known as “frissons” — an aesthetic chill that has also been referred to as a “skin orgasm.”

So how did the study go down?

To carry out the study, a group of researchers from Harvard and Wesleyan University selected ten people who claimed that they regularly experience a frisson while listening to music (the “chill group”). They also selected ten subjects who reported never having experienced the sensation (the “No-chill group” or control group).

The researchers used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to look into test subjects’ brain functioning while they listened to music ranging from Coldplay to marching band compositions. DTI lights up regions in the brain to see how strongly they are or are not connected.

What they found was revealing and yet relatively obvious: Those who occasionally feel a chill while experiencing music are wired differently than the control group. In “chill group” subjects, researchers were able to map more nerve fibers connecting the auditory cortex (the brain region that processes sound) to their anterior insular cortex (the region that processes feelings). The were also able to confirm the auditory cortex has strong links to monitoring emotions.

So how do we get the chills when the music hits just right?

“The chills is a sensation we get when we’re cold. It doesn’t really make sense that your hair would stand on end, or that you’d get these goosebumps in response to music,” says Matthew Sachs, a researcher on the study.

It’s a classic nature-versus-nurture situation, as Sachs frames it: “It’s very hard to know whether or not this is learned over time, or whether these people naturally had more fibers. All we can say is there are differences that might explain the behavior we see.”

While the study raises more questions than answers, the search is still on for a scientific explanation that explains the difference between Bach and barbiturates.

Via: The Guardian.