Why Music Gives Some People Chills

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Psychologists say some people get chills often when listening to music, but for others that rarely happens. Researchers Emily Nusbaum and Paul Silvia of University of North Carolina at Greensboro questioned students about how often music gave them chills, goosebumps or made their hair stand on end, in an effort to understand personalities.

Open Personality Types get Chills from Music

The authors write, "Although most people report having music-induced chills sometimes, some people never have them and other people have them incessantly; this wide variability invites the attention of personality psychology." They add, "In short, who tends to get chills from music, and why?"

The study, titled "Shivers and Timbres: Personality and the Experience of Chills From Music", explored the possibility that it is the music itself that send chills down the spine, related to variations in tempo, loudness, expansion of frequency range and shifts in energy.

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The researchers assessed other variables, including genre of music, daily listening engagement, exposure to the arts and whether individuals had learned to play an instrument.

The study authors note ...”people vary in what they like, yet everyone can love or hate music—but some people seem to never experience chills." The variability, they say can be "tremendous", leading them to the suspicion that getting chills in response to music has something to do with personality that has only been explored in a couple of studies.

What they found was that openness to new experiences was the best predictor of who is likely to react to music with chills. Individuals with an open personality also tended to listen to music more often and were more likely to play a musical instrument. The authors say it wasn’t because they listened to different kinds of music.

"Findings like these are what the make the study of personality and music interesting—music is a human universal, but some people get a lot more out of it." The researchers also concluded, “...the wide variability in people’s chills experience—particularly the notable subset of people who never have them—suggests that individual differences deserve more attention.”

Social Psychological and Personality Science: DOI: 10.1177/1948550610386810

Updated 3/10/14

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