The musical phenomenon of ‘skin orgasms’. A closer look.

According to the Urban Dictionary a musical orgasm is: "an experience in which one is moved by music to a level of consciousness which is characterized by feelings of ecstasy, omniscience, immortality, and sublime understanding."  

Any music lover can relate to these feelings, and as it turns out, there is real science behind them.

Here's why some people get 'skin orgasms' from listening to music.
By Mitchell Colver

Have you ever been listening to a great piece of music and felt a chill run up your spine? Or goosebumps tickle your arms and shoulders? The experience is called frisson (pronounced free-sawn), a French term meaning "aesthetic chills," and it feels like waves of pleasure running all over your skin. Some researchers have even dubbed it a 'skin orgasm.'

Listening to emotionally moving music is the most common trigger of frisson, but some feel it while looking at beautiful artwork, watching a particularly moving scene in a movie, or having physical contact with another person. Studies have shown that roughly two-thirds of the population feels frisson, and frisson-loving Reddit users have even created a page to share their favorite frisson-causing media. But why do some people experience frisson and not others?

Working in the lab of Amani El-Alayli, a professor of social psychology at Eastern Washington University, I decided to find out.

What causes a thrill, followed by a chill? While scientists are still unlocking the secrets of this phenomenon, a large body of research over the past five decades has traced the origins of frisson to how we emotionally react to unexpected stimuli in our environment, particularly music.

Musical passages that include unexpected harmonies, sudden changes in volume, or the moving entrance of a soloist are particularly common triggers for frisson because they violate listeners’ expectations in a positive way, similar to what occurred during the 2009 debut performance of the unassuming Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. If a violin soloist is playing a particularly moving passage that builds up to a beautiful high note, the listener might find this climactic moment emotionally charged, and feel a thrill from witnessing the successful execution of such a difficult piece.

But science is still trying to catch up with why this thrill results in goosebumps in the first place. Some scientists have suggested that goosebumps are an evolutionary holdover from our early (hairier) ancestors, who kept themselves warm through an endothermic layer of heat that they retained immediately beneath the hairs of their skin…

Read the full story here.
The reaction to to his published findings sparked some interesting debate. Read his follow up interview here.

Additional Reading & Tracks To Inspire The Big "O".
Did You Feel It?

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