That feeling when you listen to beautiful music and you can’t help but feeling completely immersed in it: you are having a skin-orgasm.
That feeling when you listen to beautiful music and you can’t help but feeling completely immersed in it. So much that you feel a so called frisson (pronounced free-sawn), a French term meaning ‘aesthetic chills’ and it feels like the music creates waves of pleasure all over your skin. With some scientists call it a ‘skin orgasm’. Around two-thirds of the population feels frisson, and there is even a frisson-causing media list on Reddit!What is frisson exactly?Frisson has to do with unexpected stimuli in our environment ‘violating’ our expectations in a positive way. Music particularly has that ability. It can be caused by sudden changes in volume, or a grabbing beginning of a soloist in a piece. A beautiful example can be seen with talent shows where the unassuming performer surprises the audience.
Still not everything is discovered about the secrets of this phenomenon. It is still trying to figure out why goosebumps occur in the first place. Some suggest that it has to do with being a evolutionary holdover from our early hairier ancestors whom kept themselves warm through having a thick layer of hair. They say goosebumps act as a sort of reset: first raising and then lowering the hairs so that the warmth can leave due to an unexpected cool breeze. It is not something we still need since we invented clothing that will keep us warm, but that system is now being used for aesthetic reasons when we hear or see something unexpectedly beautiful.Who experiences frisson (and who doesn’t)?
This has been tested with different people who were brought into a lab and got wired up to an instrument that measures galvanic skin response so the scientists would be able to measure how the electrical resistance of people’s skin changed when they become physiologically aroused. Then the participants were asked to listen to certain pieces of music So they could be monitored real-time.
Examples of pieces used in the study include:
The first two minutes and 11 seconds of J.S. Bach’s “St. John’s Passion: Part 1—Herr, unser Herrscher”
The first two minutes and 18 seconds of “Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1: II”
The first 53 seconds of Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All”
The first three minutes and 21 seconds of Vangelis’ “Mythodea: Movement 6”
The first two minutes of Hans Zimmer’s “Oogway Ascends”
Each of these pieces contains at least one thrilling moment known to cause frisson in listeners (several have been used in previous studies). For example, in the Bach piece, the tension built up by the orchestra during the first 80 seconds is finally released by the entrance of the choir—a particularly charged moment that’s likely to elicit frisson.
As participants listened to these pieces of music, lab assistants asked them to report their experiences of frisson by pressing a small button, which created a temporal log of each listening session.
The results were carefully studied and the most important conclusion was that people who experience frisson scored high on a personality trait called ‘openness to experience’.
Studies have shown that people who possess this trait have unusually active imaginations, appreciate beauty and nature, seek out new experiences, often reflect deeply on their feelings, and love variety in life. Some aspects of this trait are inherently emotional (loving variety, appreciating beauty), while others are cognitive (imagination, intellectual curiosity).
It is not so much about emotional component (loving variety, appreciating beauty) of ‘openness to experience’, but more so about the cognitive aspects of listening to music that will give you eventually goosebumps this study suggests.
So if you can surrender yourself to the experience of music and get thus more immersed (rather than passively letting it flow over you), you might experience frisson more intensely than others. So turn up the volume of your favorite track and listen to it as if new and let yourself be completely taken over by its captivating rhythm and melody!