Why Do We Get Goosebumps From Music
In 2007, a group of researchers at Stanford University published a study showing that women are more susceptible than men to getting goosebumps from music. The reason for this is unclear, but one theory holds that women have “greater sensitivity” to certain frequencies of sound. Whatever the cause, there’s no arguing with the fact that about half of us can’t help but shiver while listening to some tunes.
The research into why we get goosebumps has been extensive. In 2014, scientists at Oxford concluded that the physical reaction we call goosebumming isn’t actually caused by any kind of nerve impulse; rather, it occurs when a particular frequency of sound triggers activity between neurons. This finding was based on experiments using rats’ ears. A 2012 paper published in PLOS One also points out that goosebumming could be related to how your body perceives sounds. It suggests that you might feel chills not necessarily because of sensory stimulation, but because of “emotional contagion.” That means your reaction to music could depend on whether or not the song makes you happy.
But what happens when you put these theories together? If music causes goosebumps through something as simple as emotional contagion, then surely everyone would experience them if they were exposed to the right tone. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Some studies show that only around 30 percent of listeners respond physically to music, which means most people probably don’t know exactly why they get goosebumps.
So what does explain why so many of us involuntarily break into a cold sweat when we listen to a good tune? There are several possibilities. First, maybe goosebumming comes from a response to emotion. After all, it often happens after hearing something sad or scary. Perhaps the feeling is similar to what we encounter during moments of extreme stress. Another possibility is that goosebumming results from hearing a catchy melody. When music becomes associated with positive feelings like happiness, it can trigger the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that increase pleasure and act as painkillers. So listening to music could make you feel good enough to start smiling even without thinking about anything stressful. Finally, perhaps goosebumming comes from hearing the beat of a funky groove. As soon as you hear a rhythm, your head starts bobbing along.
There’s plenty of evidence to support each of those ideas, including studies that suggest specific types of music can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. But science rarely explains everything completely, especially when it comes to human behavior. For example, consider the effect of caffeine on your mood. Although its effects vary depending on who you ask, drinking coffee generally gives you a lift. Caffeine gets absorbed into your bloodstream quickly and helps raise levels of energy and alertness. But it also raises heart rate and increases adrenaline production. What’s more, caffeine can sometimes lead to anxiety attacks, agitation, insomnia and other unpleasant side effects.
As far as chills-producing songs go, there aren’t many clues. Most of the time, the listener simply enjoys the music without knowing why he or she feels so much better afterwards. However, there’s no shortage of stories about people experiencing severe reactions. On the next page, find out what happened to two teens who listened to a single song over and over again until their heads started spinning.
Goosebumps Caused By Listening To The Same Song Over & Over Again
It’s hard to say how many times 17-year old Ryan Jorgensen listened to his favorite song, “Good Vibrations,” by The Beach Boys. He had heard the tune hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. But on May 14, 2013, he decided to keep playing it just for fun. He played it six hours straight, taking breaks only to eat snacks. His mother eventually found him passed out on the floor. He spent three days in the hospital, suffering from seizures and hallucinations. Doctors believe his symptoms were due to exhaustion and dehydration brought on by excessive listening. They attributed his condition to his love of music; however, his parents weren’t convinced.
Annie Lai, 15, listened to her iPod nonstop for 28 days starting in October 2009. Her family noticed changes in her personality, such as her becoming easily agitated and irritable. She stopped going outside and refused to leave home, except to go to school. Eventually, her teachers suspected substance abuse and contacted Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS sent her to live with relatives. Two months later, Lai returned home and continued to play her iPod for up to five hours per day. At first, her parents allowed it because they knew she liked the music. Then, in November 2011, they discovered that she had downloaded another song onto her iPod. As her father approached the device, Lai grabbed scissors and stabbed him repeatedly. She told police that she didn’t remember doing it.
Both cases made headlines, but neither garnered significant attention from authorities. Why did it take such tragedies for people to realize how dangerous listening to music can be? Experts point to several factors. First, unlike drugs, which produce immediate effects, music takes longer to wear off. Second, since music affects us differently, it’s easy to attribute unwanted behaviors to the medium instead of the real culprit. Third, unlike alcohol or illegal substances, music is legal and accessible. And finally, unlike prescription medications, music doesn’t carry warnings and instructions explaining potential risks.
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