Study: The right song sends your brain into pleasure overload

Study: The right song sends your brain into pleasure overload
About half of people feel chills during music, according to new research. Photo by StockSnap/Pixabay

Nov. 3 (UPI) -- If you get goose bumps and chill travels down your spine when the the guitar solo hits during your favorite song, you're not alone. Around half of people get chills when listening to music.

In a new study, published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers successfully observed the neurological phenomenon known as "musical chills" using electroencephalography, or EEG.


Scientists in France recruited participants that experience musical chills and hooked them up to electrodes as they listened to their favorite songs.

The participants were able to accurately predict the musical moments that would induce chills, but the listeners also experienced chills during unexpected moments.

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"The majority of extracts that produce chills are specific to people, very personal, linked to the memory, to the musical styles people usually listened to," lead study author Thibault Chabin told UPI in an email.

"Chills are associated with some musical characteristics such as new and unprepared harmonies, sudden dynamic or textural changes, harmonic or melodic sequences, rhythm, resolutions etc. It depends on the musical experiences of the listener, and on how he is able to anticipate what happened next," said Chabin, researcher at the University Bourgogne Franche-Comté in France.


During the moments when listeners reported experiencing musical chills, the scalp-attached electrodes revealed a burst of electrical activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a portion of the brain involved in emotional processing.

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EEG recordings also revealed heightened activity in the supplementary motor area, a mid-brain region responsible for movement control, and the right temporal lobe, part of the right side of the brain tasked with auditory processing and musical appreciation.

The three regions of the brain work in conjunction to process musical experience, coordinate a pleasure response and release dopamine, a "feel-good" hormone and neurotransmitter.

Scientists have previously used other brain-imaging technologies to study musical chills, but the latest research was the first to deploy EEG for the purpose of observing the neurological origins of musical chills.

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"EEG can be exported outside of the laboratory in naturalistic scenarios," Chabin said. "New hyperscanning methods for the measure of inter-individual cerebral coupling is a promising method to study objectively social interaction and social emotional interaction including shared musical experiences and shared musical emotions. This work was a first step before other investigations in natural conditions."

Chabin hopes the study of musical chills in more naturalistic settings can provide new insights into the evolutionary origins of music-derived pleasure experiences.


"What is intriguing with music is, it seems to confer no biological value and has no value on the survival plan," Chabin said. "But, the implication of the reward system and of the dopaminergic system in processing of musical pleasure ... suggest an ancestral function for music."

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Chabin and his colleagues are also preparing to publish new data from an experiment during a concert. Researchers measured the shared musical emotions of about 15 people.

"They reported their subjective emotions on a smartphone in real time while their cerebral activity has been recorded by classic EEG and some physiological parameters such as heart rate [and] the [electrodermal] activity of the skin that are good indicators of the strength of emotion have been catch," Chabin said.

"The aim was to measure how people experienced similar emotions, how they shared a musical emotional experience and to measure how their cerebral and physiological activities were coupled during specific moments or not," he said.

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