Why some songs can make your hair stand on end

If you’ve ever been listening to a song and find yourself having a joyous physical reaction there’s now a scientific reason for why this occurs.

You might have noticed an increase in your heart rate, your pupils get larger, your body temperature rises, you get a tingling sensation rise up through your spine, and you might find the hairs on your arms stand up on their end.

It’s a reaction almost 50 per cent of people have when listening to music.

A PhD student at Utah University decided to investigate the link between emotional personality types and how they are affected by music.

“We predicted that if a person were more cognitively immersed in a piece of music, then he or she might be more likely to experience frisson as a result of paying closer attention to the stimuli,” the study’s author, Mitchell Colver writes.

He tested this theory by hooking participants up to a machine that measure their skin response as they were played various pieces of music by artists including Bach, Hans Zimmer and Air Supply.

Colver says each piece of music contained at least one ‘thrilling’ or climatic moment that could cause a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear. He then got the participants to complete a personality test and using the data was able to determine that those who experienced a reaction also possessed what is called ‘openness to experience’.

If you wanted to get super-scientific about things, music stimulates an reward pathway in your brain, and dopamine is encouraged to flood the part of your brain that is activated by addiction, reward and motivation. However, music being as unpredictable as it is your brain can be teased into predicting when the song’s special moment will occur, and when it does… BOOM! You get that chill and those hairs stand up.

According to Colver, those who immerse themselves in music on an intellectual level (as opposed to just letting it flow over them) might experience those feelings of excitement more regularly and more intensely than other music listeners.

What pieces of music have caused you to feel frisson? Is there a musical number that is especially chill-inducing?

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