Do you have this musical ability?

Headphones in, volume as high as it will go, and then you feel it. Your mind surrenders to the waves of music, eyes closed. Somehow your heartbeat has synced with the rhythm and you feel yourself float as the song continues. Goosebumps.

Congratulations, you’re an audiophile. Audio, from the Latin word “hear” and -phile meaning “dear,” an audiophile is someone who loves music and the microscopic complexity artists include in their songs. A cherished sensation for audiophiles is one that has been termed “frisson.” That’s the feeling of those goosebumps, the climaxing of a song, and the chills up your spine when you hear those beautiful tunes.

But what causes it? Whether it is because of blissful music, or even a dramatic movie, we experience these things because of an unexpected change or shift. The reason for these sensations caused by frisson is because of chemical reactions in our mind. Dopamine is released when listening to music, which leads our minds to react like they do when risky situations, drug use, or when we eat. Not everyone experiences frisson, though. Studies haven’t been able to pinpoint exact percentages, but it is said to be somewhere between 90 percent or as low as 50 percent.

Jack Panksepp, a neuroscientist, concluded that sad music often causes frisson more than happy music. He believes this is because of our ancient relatives having similar reactions as a stress response. Sad music also causes positive feelings instead of happy music. 

This is because of a difference in perceived emotion, rather than felt emotion. People don’t want to feel tragedy, and if sad music made people feel that way it wouldn’t be as popular of a genre. Instead, people felt positive things. This is similar to the sadness felt when being reminiscing, or missing “the good times.” Happy to have had them, sad for them to go.

“Music that is perceived as sad actually induces romantic emotion as well as sad emotion. And people, regardless of their musical training, experience this ambivalent emotion to listen to the sad music,” said Japanese researchers. People who feel frisson when listening to music are also said to be more open to new experiences than others. They are also said to be more imaginative and deeply reflective.

Do you remember the first or most recent song that caused frisson? Let us know what it was!



sources: Mental Floss, Frontiers Media, Science Alert, Slate, Nature Neuroscience, The Conversation

images: NY Mag,