Whether it’s Whitney Houston or Phantom of the Opera, when the high note hits, it creates a response within us so strong it feels physical. A recent study in the ‘Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience’ has delved into looking at brain activity when this ‘nigh-on-religious’ reaction whirls up within us.
Researchers in the new study looked at brain activity in two groups of participants; a group that report regularly getting the chills and a group that claim they never do. Both groups’ brains were analysed using a ‘diffusion tensor imaging’ method which observes how different parts of the brain connect with each other.
When analysing brain activity, the shivery group’s brains were reported to have a higher amount of nerve fibres connecting the auditory cortex (responsible for processing sound) and the anterior insular cortex (relates to emotional processing). It really does seem that some folks are wired to be more sensitive to music.
These chilling moments are being referred to as ‘frissons’ being lifted out of the French with the original meaning ‘shivers’ and it doesn’t have to be just music, but art and film may also produce the same effect.
A psychological theory behind why this happens posits that the brain follows along with the musical progression, predicting the next melodic steps and chords. The ‘frissons’ kick in when something unpredictable in the music occurs that the brain was not expecting but reacts to in a positive way.
So there you have it! Next time you get the goose bumps listening to Celine Dion, you will be able to report on the science behind why!
Musicians, Psychologists, Biologists and Medics would all be wise to explore this study further as it would make a great interview answer in the right context!
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