The researchers studied 20 students, half of which reported experiencing chills when listening to music. They used Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) – MRI scans which map out the brain – to examine the differences between the two groups.
Those who reported chills had a denser volume of brain fibres that connect the sections that process auditory information and emotions. More fibres means you have more efficient processing between the two sections, explained Matthew Sachs, a co-author of the study from the University of Southern California.
He also concluded that those with these stronger connections may feel more intense emotions generally, not just when they are listening to music.
"Emotional reactions to aesthetic stimuli are intriguing experiences to humans as they are profoundly pleasurable and rewarding, yet highly individualised," the study says.
"Finding the behavioural and neural differences between individuals who do and do not experience such reactions may help gain a better understanding of the reward circuitry and the evolutionary significance of aesthetics for humans."
Goosebumps are a fight or flight response
When you have intense emotions towards something, adrenaline is released and races through your body. According to Professor William Griffith, the head of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, they are basically a product of our fight or flight response.
This response is usually triggered when we are scared or feeling threatened, as adrenaline prepares our body to defend itself or run away. However, strong emotional reactions to other things, such as a passionate scene in a film or listening to your favourite song, can also cause us to have this reaction.
The reasons for this are unclear, but one theory is that adrenaline release could be linked to a surge of dopamine, one hormone involved in the body's reward response.
Another study, conducted by researchers at the University of York, found that music could help us manage our emotions. The team wanted to find out how listening to selected music pieces could elicit emotional responses and also be enjoyed by listeners at the same time.
They found that playing "sad" songs counter-intuitively could make people happier.
"One of the most important motivations to engage in music listening is its emotional effect on us," the team wrote on the York website.
"Listeners often report that they listen to music to calm them down, to stimulate them, to bring them into a positive mood, or to experience emotions like melancholy or nostalgia. Therefore, listening to the sound of music is unique way to experience and engage with different contrasting emotions, helping us to understand and regulate our mood according to many different situations. This makes music an important part of our overall mental wellbeing."
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