Have you ever been listening to a song when a verse, trill, or swell in the music causes a shiver to run over your skin and make your hair stand on end? Getting goosebumps while listening to music, sometimes called a “skin-orgasm,” could mean that you have a unique brain. A study published in 2015 looks at frissons and why some people experience them while others don’t. (1)
Why Do Some People Get Goosebumps While Listening To Music?
Frisson is a french term that means “aesthetic chills.” It refers to the feeling of getting pleasurable chills all over your skin, usually in the form of goosebumps. Many things can cause a frisson; however, getting goosebumps while listening to music is one that seems particularly common. (1)
In 2015, researchers from Eastern Washington University (EWU) published a paper on frissons. Combining their own research with that of the past, they have determined that this experience occurs when we emotionally react to an unexpected stimulus. This could be a sudden surge in volume, unexpected or interesting harmonies, or a soloist in music. The key here is that the change was unexpected: The listener didn’t see it coming, and it causes a pleasurable chill to run all over their body. (1)
It is estimated that about two-thirds of people experience frissons while the rest don’t. As to why our skin reacts to music this way, scientists are still trying to figure it out. (1)
An Ancestral Reaction
Early humans were much hairier than we are today. This was generally because they lived largely outdoors and didn’t have central heating or air conditioning to help them stay comfortable. When a sudden temperature change would occur, for example, a cool breeze while lying in the sun, the skin gets goosebumps, and body hair stands up to accommodate this temperature change and keep the internal temperature stable. (1)
This reaction is no longer as necessary as it once was, however, the physical characteristics needed for this to happen are still there. Scientists believe that our brains may have rewired this structure to react to emotional responses, like ones we get from music, instead. (1)
How Immersed Are You In The Music?
Whether or not you get goosebumps while listening to music largely depends on how cognitively immersed, you are in it, if you’re able to immerse yourself to that extent at all. This is what the researchers from EWU looked into. They predicted that it largely had to do with specific personality traits. (1)
They hooked study participants up to a machine that measures people’s skin changes when they become physiologically aroused. They then listened to short sections of various musical pieces while the researchers monitored them in real-time. Each selected piece has at least one unexpected or thrilling moment. The participants pushed a small button if and when they experienced frisson. (1)
Goosebumps While Listening to Music? It Could Have Something to do With Your Personality
The participants also completed a personality test. After participants completed both tests, the researchers compared the results. They found that people who scored high in the Openness to Experience category experienced frisson the most. Traits of these people include (1):
- Active imaginations
- Appreciate beauty and nature
- Seek out new experiences
- Are emotionally introspective
- Crave variety in life
The research also showed that the cognitive aspects of this personality trait had a greater impact on whether or not someone experiences frisson. Those who are cognitively engaged with the music, such as daydreaming while listening or predicting where the music will go next, are more likely to get goosebumps. (1)
Frequency of frisson are also associated with the subfacts of Openness to Experience, including (1):
What do you think? Do you get goosebumps while listening to music? If yes, do you think you are one who is open to experiences and enjoys new things?
- “Getting aesthetic chills from music: The connection between openness to experience and frisson.” Journals. Mitchell C. Colver, Amani El-Alayli. March 6, 2015.