If You Get the Chills From Music, You May Have a Unique Brain
Listen to what a USC researcher says about people who could have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions.
When Alissa Der Sarkissian hears the song “Nude” by Radiohead, her body changes.
“I sort of feel that my breathing is going with the song, my heart is beating slower and I’m feeling just more aware of the song — both the emotions of the song and my body’s response to it,” said Der Sarkissian, a research assistant at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, based at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Der Sarkissian is a friend of Matthew Sachs, a PhD student at USC who published a study last year investigating people like her, who get the chills from music.
The study, done while he was an undergraduate at Harvard University, found that people who get the chills from music actually have structural differences in the brain. They have a higher volume of fibers that connect their auditory cortex to the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate better.
“The idea being that more fibers and increased efficiency between two regions means that you have more efficient processing between them,” he said.
People who get the chills have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions, Sachs said. Right now, that’s just applied to music because the study focused on the auditory cortex. But it could be studied in different ways down the line, Sachs pointed out.
Sachs studies psychology and neuroscience at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, where he’s working on various projects that involve music, emotions and the brain.
Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music
Humans uniquely appreciate aesthetics, experiencing pleasurable responses to complex stimuli that confer no clear intrinsic value for survival. However, substantial variability exists in the frequency and specificity of aesthetic responses. While pleasure from aesthetics is attributed to the neural circuitry for reward, what accounts for individual differences in aesthetic reward sensitivity remains unclear. Using a combination of survey data, behavioral and psychophysiological measures and diffusion tensor imaging, we found that white matter connectivity between sensory processing areas in the superior temporal gyrus and emotional and social processing areas in the insula and medial prefrontal cortex explains individual differences in reward sensitivity to music. Our findings provide the first evidence for a neural basis of individual differences in sensory access to the reward system, and suggest that social–emotional communication through the auditory channel may offer an evolutionary basis for music making as an aesthetically rewarding function in humans.
“Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music” by Matthew E. Sachs, Robert J. Ellis, Gottfried Schlaug, and Psyche Loui in Social and Affective Neuroscience.