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Do you get chills or shivers down your spine when you listen to one of your favourite pieces of music? About half of us do, apparently – though just about all of us experience pleasure and joyful emotions when listening to music.
But is there any reason why we respond to our favourite songs or tracks in this way? Neuroscientists based at the Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté in Besançon believe that, while it seems music has no actual biological benefit to humans, it may well serve some kind of function as it activates the reward and pleasure systems in our brains and releases the feel-good hormone dopamine.
Writing in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, the neuroscientists discovered what happens in the brains of people who experience musical chills by using electroencelphalogram (EEG) scans to track electrical activity in their brains. While listening to their favourite music, the volunteers – 11 women and seven men – were wired up to sensors attached to an EEG machine recording their brainwave patterns. When the volunteers experienced a chill moment, their EEG showed electrical activity in several brain areas, including:

• The orbitofrontal cortex (involved in emotional processing)

• The supplementary motor area (movement control)

• The right temporal lobe (auditory processing and music appreciation)

According to the scientists, all of these parts of the brain work together ro process music, trigger the brain’s reward systems and release dopamine. The scans showed the volunteers’ brains experienced either an increase or decrease of theta activity – low-frequency electrical signals – during these specific brain regions during the chill moments too. During the tests – where each volunteer listened to 15 minutes of excerpts of their favourite music – a total of 305 chills were reported, each lasting 8.75 seconds on average.

“Musical pleasure is a very interesting phenomenon that deserves to be investigated further, in order to understand why music is rewarding and unlock why music is essential in human lives,” says researcher Thibault Chabin

Photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash