Tag Archives: chills

Can You Feel the Music Tonight?

The Rite of Spring, a ballet and orchestral assemble created by Igor Stravinsky, elicited such a strong reaction from the people who witness it; riots and fights broke out all over the concert hall from experiencing a piece of art that we now revere in modern culture. I had the completely opposite experience at Fete de la Musique in which various musical performances of numerous genres were given a microphone and a setting for everyone to enjoy. From electronic to Caribbean music, there was no telling what would arise around the corner; I loved just walking and exploring the area with surprises at any time.

First performance of the Rite of Spring in 20th century

When thinking about music broadly cannot blame the concertgoers for having such a strong reaction to the music. Music, in the ways it has manifested in my life, has been the break point for some my biggest breakthroughs in learning more about myself. In addition to kickstarting some revelations about myself, music has also helped me calm down, stay focused, and relive emotions that I once forgotten about until I listen to a song again.

Music is an amazing trigger for latent memories that we often forget about. As soon as we hear just the beat of a song, we can pinpoint a feeling or a moment that a song defined for us. One study found that music caused participants to indicate a higher rating of joy and strength where memory induction leaded to a higher correlation between the emotion and the music they listened to (Maksimainen et al., 2018). This makes sense though; the amount of music we encounter on a daily basis is massive, whether self-induced or not, and plays a large role in our life. And as a big part of our lives, they will connect to our various scenarios and emotions as we experience them.

Here are a few of my own examples. “Energy” by Drake will forever remind me of when I first felt like my first-year group of college friends started feeling like family. The entire ABBA “Gold” album reminds me of my mom without fail and how she just comes alive with the right type of music. And now, “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna will forever remind me of Paris and a sense of camaraderie I felt with my study aboard group while we walked along the Seine during the Fete de la Musique.

A drumming band that was absolutely amazing during Fete de la Musique

It made me wonder how we associate such pleasant experiences in our lives with something as arbitrary as music; a song that reminds me of a great experience could trigger a huge negative response in another person. What brain system are present that leads to difference from person to person and modulate a negative, neutral, or positive association?

A 2019 study found that dopamine plays a role in the positive responses we feel when we listen to music (Ferreri et al., 2019). The researchers took 27 participants in which they listened to 5 self-selected and 10 experimenter-selected musical excerpts before taking a dopamine agonist, dopamine antagonist, or a placebo pill with each pill administration separated by a week. After each administration, the researchers measured the pleasure response by looking at amplitude changes in electrodermal activity (EDA) and qualitative pleasurable experience ratings taken after every song. Electrodermal activity (EDA) is created by the sweat glands and the associated epidermis (“Electrodermal Activity,” n.d.) often used in behavioral medicine as a measure of emotional responsiveness (Critchley & Nagai, 2013). Participants who regularly experience chills when listening to music had a higher number of reported chills after dopamine agonist administration compared to dopamine antagonist administration as well as a higher EDA change under the dopamine agonist that was significantly different compared to the dopamine antagonist administration when experiencing pleasurable music. The amplitude of EDA did not change while the participants were listening to any random type of music. There was only a change in dopamine modulation when the participants were listening to self-reported pleasurable music supporting the researchers’ hypothesis that dopamine has a specific effect how we respond to pleasurable music (Ferreri et al., 2019).

Figure showing a higher liking ratings and pleasure EDA after dopamine agonist (levodopa) administration compared to dopamine antagonist administration (risperidone).

There were many pluses with the Ferreri et al. study, but there were some aspects that would have helped me align with their conclusions more. I would want the research to explain the validity of electrodermal activity as opposed to using other physiological changes such as heart rate or blood pressure as well as brain imaging to make sure there is activation in the mesolimbic system and not anything else. However, the authors set up their experience design thoroughly by covering various types of dopamine effects on the brain to make sure they have comparable results to see if dopamine levels can modulate could have a role in the pleasurable experiences we have with music; they were thorough in setting up the experiment for the research question. Their thoughts on defining what exactly “pleasurable” means is also fascinating because pleasure is so subjective so the fact is a big plus in how thorough the researcher were in determining how we perceive what we personally hear as pleasurable music.

Nevertheless, the study strongly suggests that pleasurable emotions we associate with music could have a relationship with the rewarding effects of dopamine. This is why relistening to reminds us of good feelings and scenarios we previously had.  The possible of the opposite happening with the Rite of Spring is plausible, but the take home message from the riot starting symphony to the soothing ballad along the Seine is clear. Music has the ability to bubble emotions to the surface in such a way that all you can do is lean into it and let it take over.


Critchley, H., & Nagai, Y. (2013). Electrodermal Activity (EDA). Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, 666–669. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9_13

Did The Rite of Spring really spark a riot? – BBC News. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22691267

Electrodermal Activity – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2019, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/electrodermal-activity

Ferreri, L., Mas-Herrero, E., Zatorre, R. J., Ripollés, P., Gomez-Andres, A., Alicart, H., … Rodriguez-Fornells, A. (2019). Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(9), 3793–3798. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1811878116

London Symphony Orchestra. (n.d.). Stravinsky The Rite of Spring // London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkwqPJZe8ms

Maksimainen, J., Wikgren, J., Eerola, T., & Saarikallio, S. (2018). The Effect of Memory in Inducing Pleasant Emotions with Musical and Pictorial Stimuli. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 17638. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-35899-y

Image #1: [Screenshot of first performance of the Rite of Spring]. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22691267

Image #2: Image taken by me

Image #3: [Screenshot of Figure #1 from study] Ferreri, L., Mas-Herrero, E., Zatorre, R. J., Ripollés, P., Gomez-Andres, A., Alicart, H., … Rodriguez-Fornells, A. (2019). Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(9), 3793–3798. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1811878116

Music at Notre Dame

Before coming to Paris, there was one trip I knew I absolutely wanted to make: a visit Notre Dame. I spent the previous spring semester reading a few pages every night of Victor Hugo’s unabridged Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I was hooked. Of course the hunchbacked madly-in-love Quasimodo didn’t exist, nor did the dashing dusky beauty Esmeralda or the creepily obsessive Frollo, but still the book stirred a deep interest in visiting the ancient cathedral. I yearned to visit the chiseled stone, to see the spires where Quasimodo was fabled to have climbed, to roam the streets that Esmeralda looked down upon from her cage in the towers. Notre Dame had a fairy tale appeal, except unlike in fantasies, this one is real, and it was waiting for me.
Unfortunately the church wasn’t on our list of scheduled sites, so I just had to go visit it on my own. After class one day, a few friends and I took the metro over to bask in the ambience of Notre Dame. It’s in the heart of Paris, situated on a small island called Île de la Cité, or ‘Island of the City,’ surrounded by the river Seine. A screenshot of Google Maps below will help draw the picture (‘A’ is Notre Dame):
Crossing the river, my jaw dropped as my eyes flew up—I could finally see the renowned towers with my very own eyes!

The building was enormous, and of course stunning. Above and around the ornate doors were statues representing biblical images in breathtaking detail.

The line to enter was extremely long, and we had plans later that evening, so we decided to take a stroll around the church instead. Just as we turned the corner, we saw a young man walk up the sidewalk with a giant instrument case. He sat on a folding stool and pulled out stringed instrument resembling a cross between a lyre and a guitar. What happened next blew me away: he began plucking his instrument, and melodious music filled with the regality and crispness of the Renaissance period flooded the street.

Hopefully the link below works…it may take a second to load.

Click here to watch him perform!

I felt a wave of relief pass over me, like nothing in this world could deter my peace at that moment. All of my worries and problems seemed to melt away in the little time I stood there, listening to him play music from the past. Overhead loomed the elegant spires of Notre Dame, and the combination of church and music was unreal. I couldn’t leave without giving him some change, knowing all too well that the amount I spared can never match the amount of joy he gave.

Researching our body’s response to music, I realized why I felt so much happiness just standing there listening to the musician. A study by Salimpoor et al. focused on dopamine, a chemical sent between nerve cells in the brain that is involved with experiencing pleasure (2011). Previous research has shown that dopamine is released in a region of the brain called the mesolimbic system, which is involved in motivation and feelings of reward (Schott et al., 2008). Humans gain pleasure not only from eating food and social interaction, things necessary for survival of prehistoric mankind, but also from “abstract stimuli, such as music and art” (Salimpoor et al., 2011).
This study tried to determine the role of dopamine released during “moments of extreme pleasure,” in this case listening to music. The downside is that pleasure is hard to quantify. To overcome this issue, the researchers looked at the bodily changes accompanying pleasurable sensations, like the “chills” that people feel when listening to certain types of music. The good kind of course, not the creepy kind. To get these chills, participants in the experiment listened to music that they liked. Chills can elicit changes in heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature. By studying these changes, researchers can thus use an objective phenomenon (chills) to describe a subjective experience (pleasure). Lastly, to record dopamine release, the researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans, a lab technique that basically images the brain using radiographic tracers.
Enough of the background stuff, let’s get into the real experiment. Participants either listened to neutral music, or music they liked. They also gave subjective responses to their chills, like the number of times they occurred and how intense they felt.  Compared to those that listened to neutral music, the participants that listened to music they liked felt more pleasure, and thus had more chills. The chills were also shown by bodily changes, including an increase in heart rate and breathing rate and a drop in body temperature. The PET scans depict an increase in the amount of dopamine sent between cells in the mesolimbic system. Thus, Salimpoor’s research concludes that dopamine release is associated with the pleasurable sensation of listening to music, which causes a feeling of pleasure and chills.
Now I see why I felt those chills when I stood there at Notre Dame that day. The music caused a release of dopamine in my brain, giving me the sensation of pleasure so that I could enjoy the experience for as long as I was there. The chills are just the byproduct of that pleasure, so that I realize just how much I like the music. Hopefully I can go visit Notre Dame again one day. If I do, I hope that the musician is there again—I’m ready for some more dopamine release with the sound of his out-of-this-world music!
-Mayur Patel

Salimpoor V, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, Zatorre R (2011) Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience 14: 257-262
Schott B, Minuzzi L, Krebs R, Elmenhorst D, Lang M, Winz O, Seidenbecher C, Coenen H, Heinze H, Zilles K, Duzel E, Bauer A (2008) Mesolimbic Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Activations during Reward Anticipation Correlate with Reward-Related Ventral Striatal Dopamine Release. The Journal of Neuroscience 28: 14211-14319