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Piloerection (goosebumps), the physical part of frisson

Frisson (French for 'shiver'), also known as aesthetic chills, musical chills, and colloquially as a skin orgasm,[1][2] is a psychophysiological response to rewarding auditory and/or visual stimuli that induces a pleasurable or otherwise positively-valenced affective state and transient paresthesia (skin tingling or chills), sometimes along with piloerection (goose bumps) and mydriasis (pupil dilation).[2][3][4][5] The sensation commonly occurs as a mildly to moderately pleasurable emotional response to music with skin tingling;[2] piloerection and pupil dilation do not necessarily occur in all cases.[4][5] The psychological component (i.e., the pleasurable feeling) and physiological components (i.e., parasthesia, piloerection, and pupil dilation) of the response are mediated by the reward system and sympathetic nervous system, respectively.[4][5] The stimuli that produce this response are unique to each individual.

Frisson is of short duration, lasting only a few seconds.[6] Typical stimuli include loud passages of music and passages—such as appoggiaturas and sudden modulation—that violate some level of musical expectation.[7][8] During a frisson, a sensation of chills or tingling felt on the skin of the lower back, shoulders, neck, and/or arms.[5][6] The sensation of chills is sometimes experienced as a series of 'waves' moving up the back in rapid succession and commonly described as "shivers up the spine".[4][6] Hair follicles may also undergo piloerection.[4][5][6]

It has been shown that some experiencing musical frisson report reduced excitement when under administration of naloxone (an opioid receptor antagonist), suggesting musical frisson gives rise to endogenous opioid peptides similar to other pleasurable experiences.[6] Frisson may be enhanced by the amplitude of the music and the temperature of the environment. Cool listening rooms and cinemas may enhance the experience.[9]


Violations of musical expectancy[edit]

Rhythmic, harmonic, and/or melodic violations of a person’s explicit or implicit expectations are associated with musical frisson as a prerequisite. Loud, very high or low frequency, or quickly varying sounds (unexpected harmonies, moments of modulations, melodic appoggiaturas) has been shown to arouse the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Activation of the ANS has a consistent strong correlation with frisson, as one study showed that an opioid antagonist could block frisson from music.[10]

Emotional contagion[edit]

Another explanation for the cause of frisson is emotional contagion, which proposes that perceived emotional intensity prompts frisson in a similar way to how a perceived sad ballad can allow a listener to feel sad themselves as an empathetic response.[10]

Neural substrates[edit]

Experimental studies have also shown that tingling during frisson is accompanied by increased electrodermal activity (skin conductance) – which is mediated via the activation of the sympathetic nervous system – and that the intensity of tingling is positively correlated with the magnitude of sympathetic activation.[4] Frisson is also associated with piloerection, enlarged pupil diameter, and physiological arousal, all of which are mediated by activation of the sympathetic nervous system.[4][5]

Neuroimaging studies have found that the intensity of tingling is positively correlated with the magnitude of brain activity in specific regions of the reward system, including the nucleus accumbens, orbitofrontal cortex, and insular cortex.[4][5] All three of these brain structures are known to contain a hedonic hotspot, a region of the brain that is responsible for producing pleasure cognition.[11][12][13] Since music-induced euphoria can occur without the sensation of tingling or piloerection,[5] the authors of one review hypothesized that the emotional response to music during a frisson evokes a sympathetic response that is experienced as a tingling sensation.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Why Do Only Some People Get 'Skin Orgasms' From Listening to Music?". NeuroscienceNews. 29 September 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Harrison L, Loui P (2014). "Thrills, chills, frissons, and skin orgasms: toward an integrative model of transcendent psychophysiological experiences in music". Frontiers in Psychology. 5: 790. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00790. PMC 4107937. PMID 25101043.
  3. ^ Colver MC, El-Alayli A (May 2016). "Getting aesthetic chills from music: The connection between openness to experience and frisson". Frontiers in Psychology. 44 (3): 413–427. doi:10.1177/0305735615572358.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Mori K, Iwanaga M (April 2017). "Two types of peak emotional responses to music: The psychophysiology of chills and tears". Scientific Reports. 7: 46063. doi:10.1038/srep46063. PMC 5384201. PMID 28387335. People sometimes experience a strong emotional response to artworks. Previous studies have demonstrated that the peak emotional experience of chills (goose bumps or shivers) when listening to music involves psychophysiological arousal and a rewarding effect. However, many aspects of peak emotion are still not understood. The current research takes a new perspective of peak emotional response of tears (weeping, lump in the throat). A psychophysiological experiment showed that self-reported chills increased electrodermal activity and subjective arousal whereas tears produced slow respiration during heartbeat acceleration, although both chills and tears induced pleasure and deep breathing. A song that induced chills was perceived as being both happy and sad whereas a song that induced tears was perceived as sad. A tear-eliciting song was perceived as calmer than a chill-eliciting song. These results show that tears involve pleasure from sadness and that they are psychophysiologically calming; thus, psychophysiological responses permit the distinction between chills and tears. ...
    Because such chills are a clear, discrete event and have the advantage of being elicited by music in emotion research, previous studies have examined the psychophysiological responses to music chills by measuring autonomic nervous system activity. To date, empirical studies have repeatedly shown that music chills are accompanied by increasing electrodermal activity (EDA) due to activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS10,11,12,13,14). Further, a recent study suggested that chills are associated with enlarged pupil diameter, and there exists a positive relationship between chills and SNS activity15. Brain-imaging studies have also suggested that chills activate reward-related brain regions, such as the ventral striatum, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex16,17. Furthermore, music chills are accompanied by rewarding dopamine release in the caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens in the striatum18. Therefore, the experience of chills seems to produce physiological arousal and reward for the listener.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Tihanyi BT, Ferentzi E, Beissner F, Köteles F (February 2018). "The neuropsychophysiology of tingling". Consciousness and Cognition. 58: 97–110. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2017.10.015. PMID 29096941. In this paper, we will review the current scientific knowledge on a special skin related sensation, tingling. The term refers to an altered sensation localized on the surface of the skin, which is not related to pain and thermal sensations. We have chosen this broad and somewhat vague description because tingling is a private qualia-type experience, which cannot be easily verbalized and communicated (Jackson, 1982). Therefore, tingling is an umbrella term that covers various sensations.
    Medicine places tingling under the general term paresthesia, i.e. sensations of a person's body with no apparent physical cause (NINDS, 2017). ... Tingling is linked to a variety of affective states connected with positive excitement and the feeling of being energized (Ayan, 2005; Bathmaker & Avis, 2005; Gould, 1991). It was also associated with elevation, i.e. a pleasant positive moral emotion triggered by witnessing acts of human moral virtue (Haidt, 2003). ... As tingling or chills have been linked to a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, as well as general arousal, it was suggested that they consist of at least two independent factors: tingling-goosebumps and cold-shiver. While the former is related to greater surprise, enjoyment and approach motivation, the latter is linked to disgust, fear, sadness, and avoidance motivation (Maruskin, Thrash, & Elliot, 2012). ... The actual mechanisms behind affect-related tingling might be better illuminated by the deeply researched example of hedonic experiences. Emotional peak experiences are often accompanied by tingling or chills. Within this category, music appears to be the most frequent trigger of chills, experienced mostly at the neck and the arms (Harrison & Loui, 2014). ...
    A related phenomenon is the recently described autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) (Barratt & Davis, 2015). It is characterized by a static tingling sensation originating from the back of the head, then propagating to the neck, shoulder, arm, spine, and legs, which makes people feel relaxed and alert. Similar to chills, it can be triggered by a variety of external stimuli, but also by internal triggers, such as focusing attention, recalling the memory of a previous ASMR, meditating, or changes of mood or state of mind. It is also connected to the experience of intimacy, flow, or mindfulness (Kobayashi, 2015).
    Concerning the nervous system background, a neuroimaging study has shown that the intensity of chills correlated with activity of the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex (i.e., the centers of the reward circuitry), insula, and anterior cingulum (Blood & Zatorre, 2001). It is possible that the emotional involvement evokes sympathetic arousal, which in turn is perceived as a tingling sensation (Grewe et al., 2010). The hypothesis that pleasant tingling is caused by emotional processes, and not the other way around, is supported by the fact that most people experiencing ASMR reported positive emotions during listening to music even in the absence of tingling (Barratt & Davis, 2015).
  6. ^ a b c d e David Huron. "Music Cognition Handbook: A Glossary of Concepts". Retrieved 2015-04-14.
  7. ^ Koelsch S (March 2014). "Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions". Nature Reviews. Neuroscience. 15 (3): 170–80. doi:10.1038/nrn3666. PMID 24552785.
  8. ^ Blood AJ, Zatorre RJ (September 2001). "Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 98 (20): 11818–23. doi:10.1073/pnas.191355898. PMC 58814. PMID 11573015.
  9. ^ David Brian Huron (2006). Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation. MIT Press. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-0-262-08345-4.
  10. ^ a b Harrison, Luke; Loui, Psyche (2014-07-23). "Thrills, chills, frissons, and skin orgasms: toward an integrative model of transcendent psychophysiological experiences in music". Frontiers in Psychology. 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00790. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 4107937. PMID 25101043.
  11. ^ Berridge KC, Kringelbach ML (May 2015). "Pleasure systems in the brain". Neuron. 86 (3): 646–664. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2015.02.018. PMC 4425246. PMID 25950633. In the prefrontal cortex, recent evidence indicates that the [orbitofrontal cortex] OFC and insula cortex may each contain their own additional hot spots (D.C. Castro et al., Soc. Neurosci., abstract). In specific subregions of each area, either opioid-stimulating or orexin-stimulating microinjections appear to enhance the number of liking reactions elicited by sweetness, similar to the [nucleus accumbens] NAc and [ventral pallidum] VP hot spots. Successful confirmation of hedonic hot spots in the OFC or insula would be important and possibly relevant to the orbitofrontal mid-anterior site mentioned earlier that especially tracks the subjective pleasure of foods in humans (Georgiadis et al., 2012; Kringelbach, 2005; Kringelbach et al., 2003; Small et al., 2001; Veldhuizen et al., 2010). Finally, in the brainstem, a hindbrain site near the parabrachial nucleus of dorsal pons also appears able to contribute to hedonic gains of function (Söderpalm and Berridge, 2000). A brainstem mechanism for pleasure may seem more surprising than forebrain hot spots to anyone who views the brainstem as merely reflexive, but the pontine parabrachial nucleus contributes to taste, pain, and many visceral sensations from the body and has also been suggested to play an important role in motivation (Wu et al., 2012) and in human emotion (especially related to the somatic marker hypothesis) (Damasio, 2010).
  12. ^ Richard JM, Castro DC, Difeliceantonio AG, Robinson MJ, Berridge KC (November 2013). "Mapping brain circuits of reward and motivation: in the footsteps of Ann Kelley". Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 37 (9 Pt A): 1919–1931. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.12.008. PMC 3706488. PMID 23261404.
    Figure 3: Neural circuits underlying motivated 'wanting' and hedonic 'liking'.
  13. ^ Castro, DC; Berridge, KC (24 October 2017). "Opioid and orexin hedonic hotspots in rat orbitofrontal cortex and insula". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 114 (43): E9125–E9134. doi:10.1073/pnas.1705753114. PMC 5664503. PMID 29073109. Here, we show that opioid or orexin stimulations in orbitofrontal cortex and insula causally enhance hedonic “liking” reactions to sweetness and find a third cortical site where the same neurochemical stimulations reduce positive hedonic impact.