Music Perception
The Emotional Sources of "Chills" Induced by Music
Jaak Panksepp


Music modifies moods and emotions by interacting with brain mechanisms that remain to be identified. One powerful emotional effect induced by music is a shivery, gooseflesh type of skin sensation (commonly called "chills" or "thrills"), which may reflect the brain's ability to extract specific kinds of emotional meaning from music. A large survey indicated that college-age students typically prefer to label this phenomenon as "chills" rather than "thrills," but many mistakenly believe that happiness in music is more influential in evoking the response than sadness. 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. As a group, females report feeling more chills than males do. Because feelings of sadness typically arise from the severance of established social bonds, there may exist basic neurochemical similarities between the chilling emotions evoked by music and those engendered by social loss. Further study of the "chill" response should help clarify how music interacts with a specific emotional process of the normal human brain.

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