April 12, 2024

Have you ever wondered what its like to feel music? To feel the ebbs and flows, the clashing crescendo and the plummeting decrescendo, followed by waves of feeling. Chills race down your legs, blossoming up your spine, waves of goosepimples following in its wake. 

For those who do not experience this phenomenon called frisson, it is an alien concept, most often met with raised eyebrows and strange looks. But for those who can feel it, it is a common occurrence, whether from listening to music, listening to another person or even listening to the sounds of nature.

Commonly referred to as aesthetic chills or psychogenic shivers, between 55 – 86 % of the population experiences this phenomenon, but few people know what it is called, or even that it is something that other people experience. While research has not determined a concrete reason behind the ability to feel frisson, researchers have discovered ways to influence existing frisson feelings.

Scott Bannister, author of A Survey into the Experience of Musically Induced Chills: Emotions, Situations and Music said, “Musically induced chills, an emotional response accompanied by gooseflesh, shivers and tingling sensations, are an intriguing aesthetic phenomenon.”

For me, frisson has been a part of my life since I can remember, but I was never able to put the sensation into words, or, for that matter, realize that it was not something that all people felt and understood in the way I did. But in researching and learning more about this phenomenon, it has given me a newfound love and appreciation for music that only continues to grow.

Dr. John Park, assistant professor of psychology, said frisson “is a biological or psychophysiological response that we have towards a stimuli or event (typically music) that we perceive to be rewarding, pleasurable or exciting. This response may come in the form of chills, tingling or some other form of physical reaction.” While Park does not know if he has experienced frisson in the way that many others do, he likened his experience to when he was a kid. “I’m not sure if this classifies as frisson, but when I would be waiting to play sports with my friends, I would feel some type of trembling or shaking in my body,” Park said. 

He added that  while he is unsure of what causes one to experience frisson, he has found research that pinpoints individuals with the ability to feel frisson as being more “musically inclined or even to have a stronger perceptive inclination towards music and sounds. He concludes that, in the end, it all boils down to the fact that certain people have different personalities, genetic predispositions or a neurobiological tendency that contributes to the ability to feel frisson. 

 “I think in general; it is amazing how each human being has the capacity and the ability to experience life in unique and distinct ways,” Park said. 

“Thus, we all have unique experiences, backgrounds and ways how we understand life and the world we live in. Frisson is just another example of how God has shaped each one of us in such unique and beautiful ways.”

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