The Neuroscience of Goose Bumps

psycheDoes listening to your favorite song give you goose bumps, chills or a “skin orgasm,” as Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, puts it?  Loui is interested in the neuroscience behind emotional responses to music. She discussed her research with the website TRBQ and with Public Radio International (PRI).

No one type of music causes this kind of physical reaction; it’s all about personal preference.

“There are some people who will really, honestly say that some pieces of music, like Justin Bieber, are really, really, really moving to them,” Loui told PRI. “And then there will be some people who say, ‘There’s something about a piano concerto that’s really doing it for me.’”

And for some people, music just doesn’t elicit an emotional response.

Loui says her most interesting findings have to do with the disparity between the people who get chills, and those who never seem to respond to music emotionally.

She says the brains of people who get chills show a stronger connection between the auditory areas and the emotion and social processing areas.

This research could hint at answers to one of the biggest questions in the field: Why has music evolved to be so important in every human culture?

“Maybe what these results are telling us is that we use music as an auditory channel to evoke these emotional responses in other people,” she told TRBQ. “And in a way we’re using it as an emotional form of communication.”

Loui has also found a connection between musical creativity and empathy. That is, she believes we use music as a way to identify emotionally with one another. Her “pet theory,” she told PRI, is that this ability is unique to humans, setting us apart from singing birds and screeching monkeys.