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Frisson - Inexplicable Music-Induced Spine Tingles

Updated on July 29, 2019
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Shannon is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada. She revels in the thrill of exploration, whether it be a hiking trail or a new book.

Ever experienced the frisson chill?
Ever experienced the frisson chill? | Source

Frisson - The Music-Listening Chill

You're listening to a song.

Suddenly, the melody shifts, multiple harmonies unite, the music swells, and you feel a shiver flick down your spine.

Sound familiar? Don't worry if it doesn't.

Studies show only 50% of people experience frisson, the shiver brought on by music.

Yes, it has a name. And scientists are currently conducting studies on why it happens at all.

What is Frisson?

Let's begin by defining what frisson is.

The phenomenon is physiologically connected to the stimulation of our pilomotor reflex. The pilomotor reflex is responsible for the goosebumps we experience when we are particularly afraid or are subject to a sudden drop in temperature.

But studies have now discovered this reflex can also be stimulated in response to a surge of emotion. And that's where frisson and music come together.

Music-induced frisson goosebumps!
Music-induced frisson goosebumps! | Source

Frisson is the name for the spine tingles and goosebumps experienced in response to music. Not everyone experiences these chills however, and studies are being conducted to help pinpoint just why some people are susceptible to frisson and others are not.

So, what is it about music that brings these chills on?

It's been discovered by studies led at McGill University that frisson is usually triggered by a sudden change in the music. Perhaps via a swell in the song or an additional voice or harmony put into play.

And no one genre is solely responsible: classical, rock, jazz and pop music are all culprits behind this physiological phenomenon.

Why do we experience frisson?
Why do we experience frisson? | Source

Why Does Frisson Happen?

There's a very old system in the brain called the dopaminergic reward pathway.

When people who experienced frisson were studied in the midst of listening to spine tingling songs, it was discovered that this ancient brain structure was activated, giving the listener a strong kick of dopamine just before and during the music induced shivers.

The brain was, in essence, giving the listener a feeling of pleasure and reward in response to listening to the music. This same neural response is also the one responsible for feelings of motivation and addiction.

Ever heard anyone say that they can't live without music?

Ever felt frisson before?
Ever felt frisson before? | Source

Have You Ever Experienced Frisson?

Although not everyone experiences frisson, this is worth a listen!

Check out this amazing rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner sung by the Kentucky All State Choir.

Certainly gives me the shivers!


Dr. Vicky Williamson. Why Do Certain Songs Give You Goosebumps.

Reilly, Lucas. Why Does Music Give Us Chills.


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