Frisson (UK: /ˈfriːsɒn/ FREE-son, US: /friːˈsoʊn/ free-SOHN French: [fʁisɔ̃]; French for "shiver"), also known as aesthetic chills or psychogenic shivers, is a psychophysiological response to rewarding stimuli (including music, films, stories, and rituals) that often induces a pleasurable or otherwise positively-valenced affective state and transient paresthesia (skin tingling or chills), sometimes along with piloerection (goose bumps) and mydriasis (pupil dilation). The sensation commonly occurs as a mildly to moderately pleasurable emotional response to music with skin tingling; piloerection and pupil dilation not necessarily occurring in all cases.
The psychological component (i.e., the pleasurable feeling) and physiological components (i.e., paresthesia, piloerection, and pupil dilation) of the response are mediated by the reward system and sympathetic nervous system, respectively. The stimuli that produce this response are specific to each individual. Frisson is of short duration, lasting only a few seconds. Typical stimuli include loud passages of music and passages—such as appoggiaturas and sudden modulation—that violate some level of musical expectation. While frisson is usually known for being evoked by experiences with music, the phenomenon can additionally be triggered with poetry, videos, beauty in nature or art, eloquent speeches, and the practice of science (mainly physics and mathematics). During a frisson, a sensation of chills or tingling is felt on the skin of the lower back, shoulders, neck, and/or arms. The sensation of chills is sometimes experienced as a series of 'waves' moving up the back in rapid succession and commonly described as "shivers up the spine." Hair follicles may also undergo piloerection.
It has been shown that some experiencing musical frisson report reduced excitement when under administration of naloxone (an opioid receptor antagonist), suggesting musical frisson gives rise to endogenous opioid peptides similar to other pleasurable experiences. Frisson may be enhanced by the amplitude of the music and the temperature of the environment. Cool listening rooms and cinemas may enhance the experience.
Violations of musical expectancyEdit
Rhythmic, dynamic, harmonic, and/or melodic violations of a person's explicit or implicit expectations are associated with musical frisson as a prerequisite. Loud, very high or low frequency, or quickly varying sounds (unexpected harmonies, moments of modulations, melodic appoggiaturas) has been shown to arouse the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Activation of the ANS has a consistently strong correlation with frisson, as one study showed that an opioid antagonist could block frisson from music. Leonard Meyer, a prominent philosopher of music, wrote in his text, “Emotion and Meaning in Music,” that music's ability to evoke emotion in the listener stems from its ability to meet and break expectations.
Frisson can also be a product of emotional contagion. Within the context of music, emotional contagion involves various musical devices, such as tonality, rhythm, and lyrics that imply emotion, triggering similar emotions in the listener. In "The Emotional Power of Music: Multidisciplinary perspectives on musical arousal, expression, and social control," Stephen Davies suggests that "music is expressive because we experience it as presenting the kind of carriage, gait, or demeanor that can be symptomatic of states such as happiness, sadness, anger, sassy sexuality, and so on."
Frisson can also be amplified by one's environment and by the social context that the piece has been listened to. For example, if one listens to a movie soundtrack in a cinema, the overall volume and the film's story will provide intentional context, likely creating deeper emotional feelings of frisson in the listener. The culture and nationality of both the piece and the composer will affect the levels of frisson felt, or if frisson is even felt at all. If one is very familiar with music built on established Western musical traditions, deviations will violate the listener's expectations. If one is from a non-Western culture, deviations from western musical tradition may prove to have no effect on the listener. Jeanette Bicknell, writing for the “Journal of Consciousness Studies,” wrote, “Different musical cultures are based upon different patterns of tonal and rhythmic organization. These patterns of musical structure and meaning are social constructions that evolved through human musical practice."
Experimental studies have also shown that tingling during frisson is accompanied by increased electrodermal activity (skin conductance) – which is mediated via the activation of the sympathetic nervous system – and that the intensity of tingling is positively correlated with the magnitude of sympathetic activation. Frisson is also associated with piloerection, enlarged pupil diameter, and physiological arousal, all of which are mediated by activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Neuroimaging studies have found that the intensity of tingling is positively correlated with the magnitude of brain activity in specific regions of the reward system, including the nucleus accumbens, orbitofrontal cortex, and insular cortex. All three of these brain structures are known to contain a hedonic hotspot, a region of the brain that is responsible for producing pleasure cognition. Since music-induced euphoria can occur without the sensation of tingling or piloerection, the authors of one review hypothesized that the emotional response to music during a frisson evokes a sympathetic response that is experienced as a tingling sensation.
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Mori K, Iwanaga M (April 2017). "Two types of peak emotional responses to music: The psychophysiology of chills and tears". Scientific Reports. 7: 46063. Bibcode:2017NatSR...746063M. doi:10.1038/srep46063. PMC 5384201. PMID 28387335.
People sometimes experience a strong emotional response to artworks. Previous studies have demonstrated that the peak emotional experience of chills (goosebumps or shivers) when listening to music involves psychophysiological arousal and a rewarding effect. However, many aspects of peak emotion are still not understood. The current research takes a new perspective of the peak emotional response of tears (weeping, lump in the throat). A psychophysiological experiment showed that self-reported chills increased electrodermal activity and subjective arousal whereas tears produced slow respiration during heartbeat acceleration, although both chills and tears induced pleasure and deep breathing. A song that induced chills was perceived as being both happy and sad whereas a song that induced tears was perceived as sad. A tear-eliciting song was perceived as calmer than a chill-eliciting song. These results show that tears involve pleasure from sadness and that they are psychophysiologically calming; thus, psychophysiological responses permit the distinction between chills and tears. ...
Because such chills are a clear, discrete event and have the advantage of being elicited by music in emotion research, previous studies have examined the psychophysiological responses to music chills by measuring autonomic nervous system activity. To date, empirical studies have repeatedly shown that music chills are accompanied by increasing electrodermal activity (EDA) due to activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS10,11,12,13,14). Further, a recent study suggested that chills are associated with enlarged pupil diameter, and there exists a positive relationship between chills and SNS activity15. Brain-imaging studies have also suggested that chills activate reward-related brain regions, such as the ventral striatum, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex16,17. Furthermore, music chills are accompanied by rewarding dopamine release in the caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens in the striatum18. Therefore, the experience of chills seems to produce physiological arousal and reward for the listener.
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In this paper, we will review the current scientific knowledge on a special skin-related sensation, tingling. The term refers to an altered sensation localized on the surface of the skin, which is not related to pain and thermal sensations. We have chosen this broad and somewhat vague description because tingling is a private qualia-type experience, which cannot be easily verbalized and communicated (Jackson, 1982). Therefore, tingling is an umbrella term that covers various sensations.
Medicine places tingling under the general term paresthesia, i.e. sensations of a person's body with no apparent physical cause (NINDS, 2017). ... Tingling is linked to a variety of affective states connected with positive excitement and the feeling of being energized (Ayan, 2005; Bathmaker & Avis, 2005; Gould, 1991). It was also associated with elevation, i.e. a pleasant positive moral emotion triggered by witnessing acts of human moral virtue (Haidt, 2003). ... As tingling or chills have been linked to a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, as well as general arousal, it was suggested that they consist of at least two independent factors: tingling-goosebumps and cold-shiver. While the former is related to greater surprise, enjoyment and approach motivation, the latter is linked to disgust, fear, sadness, and avoidance motivation (Maruskin, Thrash, & Elliot, 2012). ... The actual mechanisms behind affect-related tingling might be better illuminated by the deeply researched example of hedonic experiences. Emotional peak experiences are often accompanied by tingling or chills. Within this category, music appears to be the most frequent trigger of chills, experienced mostly at the neck and the arms (Harrison & Loui, 2014). ...
A related phenomenon is the recently described autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) (Barratt & Davis, 2015). It is characterized by a static tingling sensation originating from the back of the head, then propagating to the neck, shoulder, arm, spine, and legs, which makes people feel relaxed and alert. Similar to chills, it can be triggered by a variety of external stimuli, but also by internal triggers, such as focusing attention, recalling the memory of a previous ASMR, meditating, or changes of mood or state of mind. It is also connected to the experience of intimacy, flow, or mindfulness (Kobayashi, 2015).
Concerning the nervous system background, a neuroimaging study has shown that the intensity of chills correlated with the activity of the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex (i.e., the centers of the reward circuitry), insula, and anterior cingulum (Blood & Zatorre, 2001). It is possible that the emotional involvement evokes sympathetic arousal, which in turn is perceived as a tingling sensation (Grewe et al., 2010). The hypothesis that pleasant tingling is caused by emotional processes, and not the other way around, is supported by the fact that most people experiencing ASMR reported positive emotions during listening to music even in the absence of tingling (Barratt & Davis, 2015).
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In the prefrontal cortex, recent evidence indicates that the [orbitofrontal cortex] OFC and insula cortex may each contain their own additional hot spots (D.C. Castro et al., Soc. Neurosci., abstract). In specific subregions of each area, either opioid-stimulating or orexin-stimulating microinjections appear to enhance the number of liking reactions elicited by sweetness, similar to the [nucleus accumbens] NAc and [ventral pallidum] VP hot spots. Successful confirmation of hedonic hot spots in the OFC or insula would be important and possibly relevant to the orbitofrontal mid-anterior site mentioned earlier that especially tracks the subjective pleasure of foods in humans (Georgiadis et al., 2012; Kringelbach, 2005; Kringelbach et al., 2003; Small et al., 2001; Veldhuizen et al., 2010). Finally, in the brainstem, a hindbrain site near the parabrachial nucleus of dorsal pons also appears able to contribute to hedonic gains of function (Söderpalm and Berridge, 2000). A brainstem mechanism for pleasure may seem more surprising than forebrain hot spots to anyone who views the brainstem as merely reflexive, but the pontine parabrachial nucleus contributes to taste, pain, and many visceral sensations from the body and has also been suggested to play an important role in motivation (Wu et al., 2012) and in human emotion (especially related to the somatic marker hypothesis) (Damasio, 2010).
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Figure 3: Neural circuits underlying motivated 'wanting' and hedonic 'liking'.
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Here, we show that opioid or orexin stimulations in orbitofrontal cortex and insula causally enhance hedonic "liking" reactions to sweetness and find a third cortical site where the same neurochemical stimulations reduce positive hedonic impact.