By Mayukh Saha
Have you ever had that experience when a really good song is playing and suddenly you break out into goosebumps? One of the most memorable times this has happened to me was when I was walking down the road to my college in my last semester, and ‘I See Fire’ by Ed Sheeran from the Hobbit came up on my shuffle.
According to Alissa Der Sarkissian, an RA at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, listening to ‘Nude’ by Radiohead makers her react in a certain way. She feels like her breathing is in tune with the music. Her heart rate slows down and her awareness of the song increases. She is able to consciously feel the emotions that are contained in the music and the way her body responds to those emotions.
Recently, an ex student from Harvard who is currently studying psychology and neuroscience at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, Matthew Sachs, a friend of Sarkissian, conducted a study on people who experienced goosebumps when they listened to music so that he could find out what caused them to feel that way. He studied 20 subjects, all students. Half of them said they felt that way when listening to music and the other half said that they didn’t. He scanned their brains, and monitored their heart rates as well as their skin conductance while each person listened to three of their favourite songs.
The results of the scans showed that the brains of the subjects who felt mentally and physically connected to the music they were listening to were structured differently from those of subjects who couldn’t feel that connection. The fibres connecting their auditory cortex with the parts of the brain that dealt with feelings were denser, indicating that communication between these areas was stronger. However, it is very difficult to find out whether this is a trait that is acquired over the years or whether some people are born with a greater density of fibres.
With the data gained from the study, Sachs was able to generate an equation – Pgoosebumps = CF (Sc + Id + Ap). CF stands for cognitive factors, Sc for social and environmental context, Id for individual differences, and Ap for the acoustic properties of the music. Pgoosebumps indicates the percentage of the chance of goosebumps occurring.
Speaking to Neuroscience magazine, Sach’s said, “The idea being that more fibres and increased efficiency between two regions means that you have more efficient processing between them.” The full study was released in Oxford Academic. It indicates that the people in whom music causes goosebumps tend to feel emotions with a greater strength and intensity than others. Another factor that needs to be taken into account here is the triggering effect of memories which are connected to music. This is one aspect that Sachs could not control in his lab. Factors like intense lyrics, the rise and fall of the pitch, intervals between harmonies, and collective crowd singing also played roles in causing goosebumps.
While the initial study was conducted on only twenty people, Sachs is now researching this in more detail by studying the different ways in which the brain works when music causes people to react for whatever reason. He has always been fascinated with the way an arrangement of notes can make people feel intensely profound emotional responses. Through his work, he wishes to find out the neurological reason behind the way people react and to use that knowledge to help treat patients suffering from mental health problems.
IMAGE CREDIT: Pixabay