This shows a woman listening to music.
People who get the chills have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions. Credit: Neuroscience News

If You Get the Chills From Music, You May Have a Unique Brain

Summary: In the harmonious dance between music and emotion, USC’s researcher, Alissa Der Sarkissian, tunes in to a fascinating finding: people who experience chills while listening to music exhibit unique structural differences in the brain.

These individuals have more robust fiber connections between the auditory cortex and areas related to emotional processing, enabling heightened emotional experiences. Currently, this is linked to music given the auditory focus of the study, yet it opens exciting avenues for further exploration.

This discovery hints at a neurological symphony playing beneath the skin, reverberating with each musical note.

Key Facts:

  1. People who physically respond to music with chills have stronger fiber connections between the auditory cortex and emotional processing areas in the brain.
  2. This increased connection potentially leads to a heightened ability to experience intense emotions.
  3. Although the study specifically focused on reactions to music, the findings could potentially extend to other sensory experiences, opening new paths for research.

Source: USC.

Listen to what a USC researcher says about people who could have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions.

When Alissa Der Sarkissian hears the song “Nude” by Radiohead, her body changes.

Credit: Neuroscience News

“I sort of feel that my breathing is going with the song, my heart is beating slower and I’m feeling just more aware of the song — both the emotions of the song and my body’s response to it,” said Der Sarkissian, a research assistant at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, based at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Der Sarkissian is a friend of Matthew Sachs, a PhD student at USC who published a study last year investigating people like her, who get the chills from music.

The study, done while he was an undergraduate at Harvard University, found that people who get the chills from music actually have structural differences in the brain. They have a higher volume of fibers that connect their auditory cortex to the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate better.

“The idea being that more fibers and increased efficiency between two regions means that you have more efficient processing between them,” he said.

People who get the chills have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions, Sachs said. Right now, that’s just applied to music because the study focused on the auditory cortex. But it could be studied in different ways down the line, Sachs pointed out.

Sachs studies psychology and neuroscience at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, where he’s working on various projects that involve music, emotions and the brain.

About this music and neuroscience research news

Source: Joanna Clay – USC
Image Source: The image is credited to Neuroscience News
Audio Clip: Credited to USC News.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music” by Matthew E. Sachs, Robert J. Ellis, Gottfried Schlaug, and Psyche Loui in Social and Affective Neuroscience. Published online March 10 2016 doi:10.1093/scan/nsw009


Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music

Humans uniquely appreciate aesthetics, experiencing pleasurable responses to complex stimuli that confer no clear intrinsic value for survival. However, substantial variability exists in the frequency and specificity of aesthetic responses. While pleasure from aesthetics is attributed to the neural circuitry for reward, what accounts for individual differences in aesthetic reward sensitivity remains unclear. Using a combination of survey data, behavioral and psychophysiological measures and diffusion tensor imaging, we found that white matter connectivity between sensory processing areas in the superior temporal gyrus and emotional and social processing areas in the insula and medial prefrontal cortex explains individual differences in reward sensitivity to music. Our findings provide the first evidence for a neural basis of individual differences in sensory access to the reward system, and suggest that social–emotional communication through the auditory channel may offer an evolutionary basis for music making as an aesthetically rewarding function in humans.

“Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music” by Matthew E. Sachs, Robert J. Ellis, Gottfried Schlaug, and Psyche Loui in Social and Affective Neuroscience. Published online March 10 2016 doi:10.1093/scan/nsw009

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  1. The reality is coming from the soul, The brain merely makes one cognizant of what is already true with a person and provides the capacity for the ears to function – t how the ‘association’ is made by tones, rhythms and combinations thereof with the sound will remain a mystery.

  2. Okay, but have you guys ever experienced something that started as a “chill” and gradually increased in strength to make you feel like you were being shocked (electrocuted) all over?

  3. I believe (IF) we live multiple lives, that if your one who gets these chills, then in a past lifetime you may have been someone who was famous singer/player/creator to that style of music or tied to someone who was.
    Almost like a trigger to the unknown. I get these chills and have always wondered why and I dont necesserily believe in reincarnation but if that is real then that is one possibility that I believe is why anyone gets certain chills, goosebumps, etc etc to music.

  4. Wouldn’t it be nice if a science article used words correctly? If the headline is accurate, then this article is aimed at that one single “unique” person in the world.

  5. I think most times listeners get the chills because the very early experiences of infants are also stored in the memory but not tagged with and/or by words but connected with the sensual triggers in form of emotions and as a biochemical process – whenever these senses are triggered in the time the individual already got socialized by language and the brain formed new connections, nevertheless the same processing happens as in the infant time – some sort of conditioning that takes place – back to music: when for example certain musical patterns or sounds or songs appear the chills effect sets in – but this effect could also be trirred by a fragance or taste or whatever sensual experience the infant had when traumatised or superhappy for example.

    Certain experiences that were conditioned to the young and adult individual may be accessible through memory like for example the music that was played when a couple got together or when something special happened…but compared to the infants experience the infant had no internalized language and the brain therefore connected the sensual experience with emotions and their biochemical reactions and stored that in another form than the experiences made after having learned and internalized language – i think the brain morphs and evolves differently in childhood and after in comparison to the infant period and therefore the form of storing that information differs from each other.

  6. I’ve always had physical/emotional responses to hearing great music, reading great writing, viewing great art, and seeing beauty in our natural surroundings. I have a severe hearing loss. It is progressive and my ability to hear music is practically gone. I have noticed that my enjoyment of all of the pleasures I listed above, has diminished as well.

  7. That’s cute that the interviewee likes Radiohead, but so does an extremely large population of people throughout the world. Is she the only Radiohead fan which experiences ‘chills’? And what about the ‘chills’ all people experience with non-musical auditory stimulus (for example, hearing the breaking news of 9/11)? To refer to these people as “having unique brains” would imply that they do not fall within the normal distribution of the population. Any data on these points?
    Just because it’s psychology doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put any effort into it.

  8. ok so. when the brain hears lyrics in music like “be my bitch” “You should have my baby” “because im telling you to yer just a woman you do what i tell you to” etc etc , oh way rap isnt music

  9. Very cool! I have no Septum pallucidum and wonder if this is why I may experience this.

    1. being illegally surveilled 24/7 and savagely remotely targeted via mobile phones by any primitive man (even when I listen to Bach), who can probably experience my emotions, my message would be go to hell, all of you

  10. Chills is the wrong term, chills happens when you are cold. The effect music has is far more superior and deserves appropriate terminology, the ignorant cannot fathom the depth of this connection so I prefer “ecstatic bodily energy” for they are not “chills” as or “goosebumps” it is a different emotion although that borderlines on “epiphany’ and “transcendence” as intense experiences equate that to profound meditative states

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