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HomeScienceScientists discover why you get chills when you hear your favourite music

Scientists discover why you get chills when you hear your favourite music

Scientists discover why you get chills when you hear your favourite music
Young handsome man listening to music
French researchers have been studying the area of the brain responsible for processing music (Getty Images)

The reason why we get a spine-tingling ‘chill’ when we hear our favourite music has been revealed by scientists.

French researchers found areas of the brain responsible for emotion, movement, and processing music and sound work together to create a rush of dopamine – the human body’s ‘feel good’ chemical.

The research team believe the reason people get so much pleasure from music could be because our brains are trying to guess what happens next – and getting it right is good for survival so we get a reward.

Thibault Chabin, a PhD student at the University Burgundy Franche-Comté who led the study, said: ‘What is most intriguing is that music seems to have no biological benefit to us.

‘However, the implication of dopamine and of the reward system in processing of musical pleasure suggests an ancestral function for music.

‘This ancestral function may lie in the period of time we spend in anticipation of the ‘chill-inducing’ part of the music.

‘As we wait, our brains are busy predicting the future and release dopamine.. Evolutionarily speaking, being able to predict what will happen next is essential for survival.’

To make their findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, Mr Chabin and his colleagues hooked up 18 music-lovers to electroencephalogram, or EEG, machine – which records electrical activity in the brain.

They then played a series of 90-second clips of the participant’s favourite songs and watched what happened in their brains when they got chills.

Young woman listening to music
Scientists say our brains are trying to guess what happens next in the music (Credits: Getty Images/Westend61)

When the participants experienced a chill, Mr Chabin saw specific electrical activity in the orbitofrontal cortex – a region involved in emotional processing, the supplementary motor area – a mid-brain region involved in movement control, and the right temporal lobe – a region on the right side of the brain involved in auditory processing and musical appreciation.

Combined with the pleasurable anticipation of their favourite part of the song, this produced the tingly chill they experienced.

Mr Chabin said: ‘The fact that we can measure this phenomenon with EEG brings opportunities for study in other contexts, in scenarios that are more natural and within groups. This represents a good perspective for musical emotion research.

‘We want to measure how cerebral and physiological activities of multiple participants are coupled in natural, social musical settings.

‘Musical pleasure is a very interesting phenomenon that deserves to be investigated further, in order to understand why music is rewarding and unlock why music is essential in human lives.’