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Scientists probe the brain to see why our favorite music gives us the chills

I got chills, they're multiplying.

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Some songs can give you goosebumps all over.
Getty Images - Roberto Gomez

Some pieces of music can move a person to tears. Others trigger immediate recognition. (There are legions of fans who recognize Welcome To The Black Parade from a single G note.) And then there are those who experience full body tingles. Almost half the population say they've experienced such a sensation while listening to their favorite songs.

Now, we might know why. A team of neuroscientists in France published a study, in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience on Tuesday, linking chills to multiple brain regions key in activating reward and pleasure systems.

The study asked 18 participants to listen to songs they self-described as "chill-producing" and asking them to indicate when they felt chills. The researchers wanted to analyze the activity in the brain when participants felt the chills so they hooked them up to an EEG, which can detect electrical signals emanating from different brain regions. 

The EEG scans revealed the brain was lighting up in three significant areas, related to emotional processing, movement and processing sounds and music. These areas of activity combine to trigger a release of the hormone dopamine, which provides "feel good" emotions and sensations, resulting in the chills we experience while listening to a particularly stirring piece of music. 

Thibault Chabin, lead author and researcher at the University of Burgundy Franche-Comté in France, believes the results represent a good perspective for musical emotion research and provides opportunities for further study in other contexts.

"We want to measure how cerebral and physiological activities of multiple participants are coupled in natural, social musical settings," Chabin said in a release. The small study gives researchers insight on how music affects the brain and, Chabin notes, may be related to an ancestral function of music. 

"Musical pleasure is a very interesting phenomenon that deserves to be investigated further, in order to understand why music is rewarding and unlock why music is essential in human lives."