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When a musician rips into a totally sweet solo, it can give you goosebumps and send a chill down your spine, but how does that happen?

Hosted by: Stefan Chin

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[INTRO ♪].

If you’ve ever been listening to music, and suddenly felt a shiver— like, a kind of strange chill that runs along your spine and makes the hair on your arm stand on end—congrats! You’ve experienced what some people call a “skin orgasm.” Scientists prefer the term frisson, which is French for ... shiver.

And they happen when your body has a strong emotional response to something, like a powerful stretch of notes in a song. [guitar ♪] But not everyone experiences them, and scientists think that might have to do with small differences in our brains. A frisson is more than the tingling in your spine. While that chill is happening, the electrical conductance of your skin increases because of small changes in your sweat glands.

Your pupils also dilate, and brain areas associated with pleasure and euphoria activate as the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in your brain. All of these are the physiological side-effects of turning on the neurological reward system that makes you feel good— the same one triggered by things like food, sex and illicit drugs. But why this reward system is turned on by music is less clear.

Sudden jumps from a quiet note to a loud one, [French horn ♪] or from a low note to a high note, [piano ♪] often trigger frissons. Unexpected solos, harmonies, [guitar ♪] or sequences in melodies can as well. That might be because those characteristics in music are pleasant surprises, and new or unexpected stimuli can trigger your autonomic nervous system— the part of your nervous system that deals with all involuntary physical activity in your body, like how fast your heart beats.

But what elicits a frisson also varies from person to person, depending on personal tastes, so scientists think your emotional connection to the piece also plays a role. You’re much more likely to have one while hearing a song that you like than one that you don’t, for example. And they don’t just happen with music.

They can happen in response to visual stimuli, like pictures, or movies. You can even have a frisson just by thinking about an emotional event. But not everyone gets them.

Studies suggest that between 55 and 86 percent of people experience frissons. And a personality trait called ‘Openness to Experience’ might explain why. People who score highly on that trait often experience intense emotions, have active imaginations, and are intellectually curious.

And, according to a 2016 study of 100 college students, they have frissons more frequently when listening to music. The study authors suggest that might be because they’re processing the music in a more cognitive, attentive way, which makes them more likely to be emotionally moved by something unexpected in music. Another 2016 study of 20 people added to that by comparing the brains of people who experienced frissons with those who do not.

People who do had more connectivity between the auditory cortex, the region which processes sounds, and emotional processing centers in the brain, like the insula and medial prefrontal cortex. If you’re not sure if you’ve ever had a frisson, well, a devoted subreddit suggests listening to. Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide and Seek’ or ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd.

Those songs seem to give lots of people skin orgasms. Happy listening! Thanks to the Higuera family and Catherine for asking, and to all of our patrons who voted for this question in our poll.

If you want to pose questions like this for us to answer, or just get access to some really neat rewards, all while helping us keep the lights on, you can learn more over at [OUTRO ♪].