“Skin Orgasm” No seriously, that’s what it’s called…

….when you have that sensation of uncontrollable chills, tingling, shivers or goosebumps that race up your body on hearing music that moves you.

A team of scientists has studied the phenomenon (because these days the only way to validate a human experience is via an official scientific study) and concluded that yes, indeed, it is actually possible to get the chills on hearing a piece of music. Snarkiness aside, it turns out at not all people get ‘skin orgasms’ but a good predictor is the personality trait ‘openess’ (and how exactly does one quantify that, praytell?)**

The scientific explanation for chills is that the emotions evoked by beautiful or meaningful music stimulate the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls primal drives such as hunger, sex and rage and also involuntary responses like blushing and goosebumps. When the song soars, your body can’t help but shiver.

Some people report lots of skin orgasms and some people say they never get them, but the personality trait “openness to experience” seems like a good predictor. (By “open to experience” the researchers seem to mean those people who enjoy art, good movies, aesthetic stuff.)

That’s what the North Carolina researchers wanted to test. So they took 196 people and assessed their music preferences; how often they experienced chills, goose bumps, hair standing on end and the like; their engagement with music (such as whether they played an instrument); and their personality types. The only personality trait with a significant impact on music-induced chills was indeed “openness.”

Full story at MSNBC’s Body Odd page

Regardless of how necessary any of this research was, I’m always fascinated when quirks of the human brain are explored. It shows just how complex and wonderful an organ the brain is.

My strings triggered skingasms are probably what drove me to take up the cello, but here’s a shortlist of others:

Movie soundtracks – the Mission, Jurassic Park, and even some parts of the Halo game soundtrack
Pretty much anything sung by a choir from We Three Kings to Amazing Grace
Singers who play piano – Tori Amos (Winter), Aqualung (Pressure Suit), Sara Barellis (One Sweet Love)

Does music give you the chills? If so, what pieces, genres or artists do the trick?

**I’m sorry, I did promise snarkiness aside. Studies like this always remind me, to a lesser degree, of Harry Harlow’s work with primates. In the early twentieth century, Harlow conducted a series of experiments to prove essentially that a ‘mother’s love’ was not dangerous to the healthy upbringing of her offspring. While I fundamentally disprove of much of Harlow’s methods (don’t get me started on the barbarism of primate research) I’m even more disturbed by the by the social conditions which provoked his work. (Seriously, check out the excellent episode of This American Life: Unconditional love for more on that story)

So as much as I appreciate the recognition for things like “Skingasms” and other neurological quirks (conditions?) especially if it makes those who experience from them feel validated in the face of dismissal from the scientific or medical community, I always feel a little “well, duh” when scientists announce them.


About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
This entry was posted in science&music and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Skin Orgasm” No seriously, that’s what it’s called…

  1. Pingback: Plays with others (‘well’ might be a stretch) « strings attached

  2. Pingback: MIT’s Opera of the Future | Strings Attached

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