The chill of the bass

Photo by Flickr user jon madison. Click for sourceI’ve just found this wonderful short paper on emotional peaks and ‘chills down the spine’ in response to music. I didn’t realise the area had been investigated and apparently there is a small literature on these most sublime of experiences.

The paper is brief, accessible and is available online as a pdf but the abstract gives a great summary:

Chills as an indicator of individual emotional peaks

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jul;1169:351-4.

Grewe O, Kopiez R, Altenmüller E.

Chills (goose bumps) have been repeatedly associated with positive emotional peaks. Chills seem to be related to distinct musical structures and the reward system in the brain. A new approach that uses chills as indicators of individual emotional peaks is discussed. Chill reactions of 95 participants in response to seven music pieces were recorded. Subjective intensity as well as physiological arousal (skin conductance response, heart rate) revealed peaks during chill episodes. This review suggests that chills are a reliable indicator of individual emotional peaks, combining reports of subjective feelings with physiological arousal.

Right, where’s that Miley Cyrus CD.

pdf of scientific paper.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

2 thoughts on “The chill of the bass”

  1. I appreciated the study’s observation that “neuronal circuits corresponding to networks activated during sex, food intake, and drug abuse are activated during chill episodes.” Since the experience of music is that powerful, can Musicoholics Anonymous be far behind? (And if MA is to have the standard twelve steps, will they be in three bars of four or in some other meter?)
    “I admit that I am powerless over Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D…”

  2. Music and Emotions

    The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can’t convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

    An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. The experience of listening to a minor chord can be compared to the message conveyed when someone says, “No more.” If someone were to say these words slowly and quietly, they would create the impression of being sad, whereas if they were to scream it quickly and loudly, they would be come across as furious. This distinction also applies for the emotional character of a minor chord: if a minor harmony is repeated faster and at greater volume, its sad nature appears to have suddenly turned into fury.

    Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

    But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called “lead”, “leading tone” or “striving effects”. If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change – but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

    Further information is available via the free download of the e-book “Music and Emotion – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

    Enjoy reading

    Bernd Willimek, music theorist

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