Have you ever found yourself listening to music and staring out a window, when suddenly the song changes and you begin to feel a tingle creep up your arm? The hair on the back of your neck stands up and you notice goosebumps on your skin. For the whole length of the song you feel chills, a sensation you can’t seem to explain.
If this sounds like you, you may be biologically different than other people who hear the same song and don’t get the same sensation as you. It turns out you just might be special.
I Got Chills, They’re Multiplying
The study was conducted by Matthew Sachs, a graduate student from the University of California, studying the effect of music on the brain. There were 20 student participants, 10 of which reported that they got chills when listening to their favorite song, and 10 that didn’t .
The researchers took brain scans of the students who felt chills, or ‘frisson’, as it is known scientifically. These students were found to have a significantly higher number of neural connections between their auditory cortex, emotional processing centers, and prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is involved in higher-order cognition, such as interpreting a song’s meaning.
In other words, they were experiencing a stronger emotional connection to what they were hearing than the 10 people who didn’t get chills.
What Kind of Songs Cause Chills?
William Halimou, a 4th year undergraduate student at Oberin College, wrote a paper on music-induced ‘chills’, and gained insight as to why certain people report these sensations when listening to certain songs .
“Music-induced chills are a form of frisson in that they consist of involuntary shivers and tingles down the back and arms (sometimes even other areas) and goosebumps, accompanied by positive feelings. These chills been appropriately called “goosetingles” by some.”
As to what kind of song is more likely to trigger this sensation, Halimou states,
“From my research so far, it seems that chill-inducing music is very personal, and varies across individuals. However, one study by Grewe et al. did observe that musical passages containing new or unexpected harmonies or sudden dynamic or textural changes evoked shivers the most.
Another study by Harrison and Loui found that peaks in loudness, moments of modulation and melodies in the human voice or human vocal register were common chill-inducers. All in all, while chill-inducing music is largely personal, there may be some general music features that more commonly evoke chills.”
He goes on to explain the evolutionary reason that we may experience these sensations. He references a study by Jaak Panksepp and Gunther Bernatzky  that brain areas that are thought to play a role in separation distress and observed activity in these regions during the experience of chills. Therefore, chills could possibly be related to socio-emotional systems that generate separation-distress, like a child calling out for a parent.
So the next time your favorite song comes on, or you hear a voice that connects to you emotionally, see if you get these feelings. Experience music in a way few people can.