Why Music Gives Me Goose Bumps

No new album review today, but a slightly different topic, still related to music.

Goose bumps

One of my very early and quite popular blog posts was about the emotional impact of music. I called it “Top 10 Music That Gives Me Goose Bumps”, followed by two posts with readers suggestions to the same topic (you’ll find them here and here, please do check them out as they give some excellent music recommendations).

To me, emotional music up to a point that it triggers physical reaction, is totally normal. Right? Music touches us very deeply, that’s why we all listen to it, and crazy people like me even spend a significant amount of there spare time writing about it (with a much larger chunk of the same spare time spent listening to it).

So, this must be a universal thing, right?

Turns out it’s not.

Some science

I actually have a science background (even if I moved out of science early in my career). So I’m still very interested in science, even if today instead of having a subscription to Science (yes, I had that in my early years, a bit over the top I admit if you’re not in acacemia), I now follow science more via the layman’s press and increasingly also via social media.

I came across this article Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to musicpublished in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience late 2016.

It already starts with an interesting statement: Humans routinely experience pleasure in response to higher order stimuli that confer no clear evolutionary advantage. They then quickly explain that it is highly unlikely that our appreciation of arts has no evolutionary advantage, because otherwise it would not have survived that long.

Later in that article they describe the fact that not everyone experiences intense emotional responses to music. It’s hard for me to believe when you’re so passionate about a topic, but by observation, I must admit they are right.

And here comes the fun part: Real-time ratings of experienced pleasure and psychophysiological measures recorded during music listening showed quantifiable differences between individuals who report experiencing chills and individuals who do not. Ok, chills probably is the better word than goose bumps (clearly showing that I’m not a native speaker).

So, what are those differences? Well, it turns out it’s all about white matter connectivity. Turns out, if you’re reading this blog, your brain is probably wired somewhat differently to the average population.

I assume we should just enjoy the fact that our brains have developed such a powerful connectivity, and go back to enjoying music immediately!