Frisson (French for shiver) – a sudden, strong feeling in response to stimuli
If you get a shiver down your back when you listen to a certain piece of music, then you may be experiencing a psychophysiological reaction called ‘frisson’. The term has been applied to the skin-tingling sensation or ‘goosebumps’ effect and scientists have conducted studies to find out what exactly is happening.
Research reveals that music activates reward-related regions of the brain and can also induce release of the hormone dopamine, linked to pleasure. As well as a physical response, music can spark memories and emotions. Some songs may remind us of unpleasant occurrences, such as relationship break ups. But at the time, they may have actually helped get us through those difficult life events.
Musicians often say they write songs from their own experiences and with love being a major theme of compositions, perhaps it is no wonder they connect to similar emotions in the listener.
Lyrics and melodies that reflect sadness or loss can help us feel better about the bad times. When a composer writes through their own life experience and touches us with their melody, it may help us to know we are not alone within our own upset.
Songs we hear when we are young often correspond to the ‘first time’ we experience intense emotions, such as falling in love. Connected in our memory, hearing the same tune again can evoke the same feeling.
If music can help console us when we are sad, or excite us to the point that we get up and strut our stuff on a crowded dance floor, does that mean it might also heal us?
Music therapy is common today in treatments for psychological conditions such as depression and has been shown to help people with dementia. Active therapy, creating one’s own music, has been shown to help children with communication skills, and receptive listening techniques are used in cancer patient care.
Whether we feel that ‘frisson’ or not, music can provide an outlet for our emotions, give us connection to others and be a means to arouse memories that remind us of good times.