Have you ever experienced pure rapture when listening to a piece of music? Have you listened to a piece of music that sent tingles up and down your spine and made your breathing and heart rate increase? Have you experienced such emotion that you truly felt you were in an altered state? Yes, music can do that! People have experienced cold chills when listening to and participating in music for thousands of years, and we inquiring minds have wondered why this happens.
With the advances in neuroscience and brain technology, scans of all kinds, and the general rise in interest in neuroscience, we are beginning to know today what takes place in the brain and body of someone who is listening to a piece of music that gives them cold chills up and down their spine, or induces a sense of intense pleasure so that they wish the piece of music would never stop!
Recently a report on a fascinating study came out in the The Guardian. The study was conducted at Harvard University by a graduate student at the University of Southern California. In order to get subjects for this study, the researcher, Matthew Sachs, “put out a call” to music lovers in the area asking for volunteers who loved music but either “did” get chills when listening to certain music or definitely “did not” get chills when listening. Of the over 200 people that responded, Sachs and colleagues at Harvard and Wesleyan University in Connecticut chose 10 each for “did” and “did not.” These subjects took online personality tests and then came into the lab with their own playlists. The music ranged widely from Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Coldplay’s Strawberry Swing toBag Raiders’ Shooting Stars and Blue Devils Drum Corps’s Constantly Risking Absurdity.
According to the authors, “The brains of people who felt the chills had more nerve fibres running from the auditory cortex, needed for basic hearing ability, to two other regions, namely the anterior insular cortex, involved in processing feelings, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which is thought to monitor emotions and assign values to them.” So, it would seem that we are genetically set up to have these denser fibers in our brains, which lead to the abilility to feel chills or simply to really enjoy the music and perhaps even experience ecstasy or rapture, but without chills.
Would love to hear your comments!