chills from music

Are you one of the 50-80% (depending on which study you read) of the population who get chills, goosebumps, frissons, or, a term I just learned about today, “skin orgasms” when you hear an intense or touching song? So do I, and I wanted to know why.

But before we dive into the reasons why, let’s play a game… Listen to the following three songs and let me guess what happens. It’ll be like magical science.

The first song we’ll try with this is a track used in multiple studies, the classical, the man himself, Johann Sebastian Bach. Listen to the first two minutes for the full effect and most likely some shivers.

Slate says that this one makes the bumps pop because of the built-up tension from the chorus finally being released when the choir comes in.

Next up, something a little different. Quincy Jones‘ song “Soul Bossa Nova.” The second it drops, you’re probably going to giggle.

If you’re like more than half of the population, you giggled when it came on. Maybe because you picture Austin Powers dancing around, maybe because it’s just a really fun song, but either way. In a study from 2007 with 38 participants, over half laughed, so you’re not alone.

And finally, this one doesn’t have a study linked to it, but from the first second of it I’m guessing (hoping) that you get insane frissons. Who doesn’t love “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger?

Where were you on the three above? Two tingles and a giggle? No tingles and a giggle? No tingles and no giggles? We should talk about this on Twitter.

Anywho, we found three main areas of study about chills from music (or whatever you want to call them) and they all stem from our most basic physiological attributes from the past.


It’s possible that at the end of the day it all just comes down to fight or flight. In Scientific American, they brought in all the main reasons why we get goosebumps, and it might just be the adrenaline.

In addition to cold, the hair will also stand up in many animals when they feel threatened—in a cat being attacked by a dog, for example. The elevated hair, together with the arched back and the sideward position the animal often assumes, makes the cat appear bigger in an attempt to make the dog back off.

Be it the cold or just being scared, our body pushes out adrenaline. And sometimes music taps into our primal ways and says, “Look bigger to scare this jerk!” or “Fluff up and get warm!” Either way, in this case, it might just be an accident.

Another study doubles up on the emotional side of things.

Emotional Connection

There’s a genre of music you may know about called “emo,” short for emotional. And like it or not, listeners might just be more connected to their music than you. According to Jaak Panksepp from Bowling Green State University.

A series of correlational studies analyzing the subjective experience of chills in groups of students listening to a variety of musical pieces indicated that chills are related to the perceived emotional content of various selections, with much stronger relations to perceived sadness than happiness.

The strangest part about this study is the fact that there’s a stronger connection to sadness when creating goosebumps, but goosebumps do not themselves create sadness. It’s a vicious cycle.

And finally, all of the above might just be amplified by this one.


This one might be my favorite of the studies. In an article in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience from 2016, they found that the test subjects who experience goosebumps might just have better wiring in their brain. Those chills from listening to White Zombie may be because you’re “more human.”

[The] volume of white matter connectivity was significantly correlated with a participant’s tendency to experience chills: the more frequently a person reports experiencing chills, the larger the volume of white matter connectivity among … three regions of the brain.

What do you think it is? Is it our body just mistaking excitement for fear? Is it doubling up on that because of the emotional connection? Or is it the lucky few of us with an excess of white matter pulsing through our brains?

No matter what the actual science is, there’s nothing like a physical connection to your favorite music, amirite?