A Ph.D. student from Utah State University, Mitchell Colver recently posted his findings discussing the experience of ‘frisson’ (pronounded free-sawn). The French term means ‘aesthetic chills’, otherwise known as a ‘skin orgasm’. According to Colver’s report, studies show that two-thirds of the population feels frisson. The question then becomes – why do some experience this sensation and others don’t?
Working alongside Dr. Amani El-Alayli, a professor of Social Psychology at Eastern Washington University, Colver discovered various factors of frisson. The first finding centred around the way “individuals emotionally react to unexpected stimuli.” Over the past five decades, researchers have found that “musical passages that include unexpected harmonies, sudden changes in volume or the moving entrance of a soloist are particularly common triggers for frisson.”
However, the question still remains – why do we get goosebumps in the first place? Well, some scientists have reportedly suggested that goosebumps are an “evolutionary handover.” Apparently, our ancestors kept themselves warm through an endothermic layer of heat that was retained beneath the hairs of their skin. Goosebumps would appear due to temperature change and raise and lower the hairs, resetting the layer of warmth.
Therefore, it’s believed that since humans have now invented clothing, we have less need for this ‘layer of heat’ but the psychological structure is still very much apparent. It is believed that this structure may have been “rewired to produce aesthetic chills as a reaction to emotionally moving stimuli”.
Skin Response Investigation
Conducting their own study, Colver and Dr. Amani El-Alayi predicted that “if a person were more cognitively immersed in a piece of music, then he or she might be more likely to experience frisson as a result of paying closer attention to the stimuli.”
In order to test this hypothesis, the pair’s participants were wired to a galvanic skin response instrument and a measure of their skin’s electrical resistance was taken while listening to various music pieces.
Chosen pieces were as follows:
– J.S Bach’s St John’s Passion Part 1 – Herr, unser Herrscher
– Chopin’s Piano Concerto NO.1:II
– Air Supply’s Making Love Out Of Nothing At All
– Vangelis’ Mythodea Movement 6
– Hans Zimmer’s Oogway Ascends
Each chosen piece was said to contain at least one “thrilling moment that is known to cause frisson in listeners.” Participants then reported their experiences to lab assistants by pressing a small button that created a log of each listening session. The results below showed extremely telling changes throughout the listening periods.
As well as the results above, the research also tested the role of personality in the land of ‘skin orgasms’. Results showed that those who possessed the personality trait called Openness to Experience are more likely to experience frisson.
According to Colver’s study, people who possess this trait have “unusually active imaginations, appreciate beauty and nature, seek out new experiences, reflect deeply on their fillings and love variety in life.”
Ultimately, these findings indicate “those who intellectually immerse themselves in music (rather than just letting it flow over them) might experience frisson more often and more intensely than others.”