Have you ever sat at a music concert or are listening to some nice vocals, when you suddenly feel a chill run down your spine, or goosebumps grow on your arms and cheeks?
Then, you must have experienced what some researchers are calling “skin orgasm.” The experience is called frisson, a French term which means “aesthetic chills,” and feels like waves of pleasure running all over your skin.
There are some triggers that can lead to this effect. For some people listening to emotionally moving music can cause frisson while to others, it can be triggered when admiring the beautiful artwork, watching a great scene in a movie or having physical contact with another person.
Studies have indicated that nearly two-thirds of the world’s population feel frisson.
Why do the chills happen?
Dr Amani El-Alayli, a professor of Social Psychology at Eastern Washington University, sought to find out how frisson occurs.
Scientists, motivated to unravel the mystery that is frisson, traced its origin to how people react to unexpected stimuli in the environment, especially music.
According to the researchers, musical performances that include unexpected harmonies, sudden changes in volume or an emotional entrance of a soloist are common triggers for frisson as they violate listener’s expectations in a positive way. One great example is the performance by a modest Susan Boyle at the 2009 debut on ‘Britain’s Got Talent.’
If a violin soloist executed a beautiful high note successfully, a listener might find this climatic moment emotionally charged resulting in a feel of thrill.
The thrills and chills are accompanied by goosebumps, and science is still trying to decipher the reasoning behind it.
Basically, most people experience goosebumps effect after a rapid change in temperature (like experiencing a sudden cool breeze on a sunny day), which temporarily raises and then lowers the hairs, resetting this layer of warmth.
Can skin react to good music?
Well, the researchers projected that if a person were more cognitively engrossed in a musical piece, then they are more likely to experience frisson as a result of paying closer attention to the stimuli.
In the research, it was noted that people with a certain personality type were more likely to experience frisson than others.
On comparing the physiological results of the participants against their personality tests, the scientists drew this conclusion; frisson might be happening more often for some listeners than for others. This, they attributed to a personality trait called ‘Openness to Experience,’ indicating that listeners with this kind of trait were more likely to experience frisson than others.
People who possess this trait, are said to have unusually active imaginations, seek out new experiences, appreciate beauty and nature, often reflect deep on their feelings, and adore a life of variety. Some of the aspects of this trait are intrinsically emotional (loving variety, appreciating beauty), and others are cognitive (imagination, intellectual curiosity).
While previous research showed that Openness to Experience could instigate frisson, the researchers also concluded that frisson occurred when a listener had a deeply emotional reaction to the music.
In contrast, the recent findings published in the journal Psychology of Music, show that those who intellectually immerse themselves in music, might experience frisson more often and more intensely than others.
The recent study also indicates that: “‘Openness to Experience’ – such as making mental predictions about how the music is going to unfold or engaging in musical imagery (a way of processing music that combines listening with daydreaming) – that are associated with frisson to a greater degree than the emotional components.”
While some people have the honor of experiencing ‘skin orgasm’ some do not. Those who feel frisson can join other lucky people in the ‘frisson Reddit Group’ and discuss the chill-inducing experiences.
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