Chill/No Chill: What Group Are You?

I recently read an article that posed an interesting idea. The article suggests that if a person has a physical reaction to music (goosebumps) then his/her brain is wired differently. This hypothesis comes from the findings of a recent study conducted by a PhD student at USC.

In brief, the study looks at people who did and did not have reactions to music. They were called the “Chill” and “No Chill” groups. (Someone on this study had a great sense of humour.)

“Survey responses showed that people who are open to experience and have more musical training are more likely to report strong emotional responses.” This may seem obvious, but think about most music listeners. How many people actually have musical training? This theory suggests that connection between making music and listening to music creates a strong visceral reaction. The study continues to look for the trigger point, or most popular reaction to music. The conclusion is that chills are the strongest indicator of any type of emotional response to music. The more you have a physical response to music, the stronger you are emotionally tied to the piece.

Multidimensional scaling results: The 15 items of the Aesthetic Experience Scale in Music mapped onto two-dimensional space. The two-dimensional solution shows a spectrum of responses ranging from visceral responses (on the right side of the MDS solution) to abstract, cognitive responses (on the left side of the MDS solution). Chills appear in the middle, reflecting its visceral and abstract components.

The study also looked at and measured such instances as a change in heart rate. It was noted that those in the “Chill” group experienced an increase in heart rate, while those of the “No Chill” group did not.

“Emotional reactions to aesthetic stimuli are intriguing experiences to humans as they are profoundly pleasurable and rewarding, yet highly individualized. Finding the behavioral and neural differences between individuals who do and do not experience such reactions may help gain a better understanding of the reward circuitry and the evolutionary significance of aesthetics for humans. ” Speaking with several friends across various social media platforms, I have found that everyone experiences music differently. Some cry, some relax, some just enjoy a good tune. But why such varying results?

“Survey results confirmed that substantial individual differences exist in the tendency to experience strong emotional responses to music, and that these individual differences are dependent on behavioral and personality factors. Real-time ratings of experienced pleasure and psychophysiological measures recorded during music listening showed quantifiable differences between individuals who report experiencing chills and individuals who do not. ”

This study prompted me to think about my own physical responses to certain pieces of music. Works, such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 II. Allegretto, have always touched me on a deeper level. In fact, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is the piece that ignited my passion for classical music. Beethoven was the rock star of his generation, creating some of the “heaviest” and emotional pieces of the time.

The survey doesn’t offer any conclusive answers to the question. Instead the survey suggests that those who do have a physical reaction to music have more white matter activity in their brains. This means there is more connectivity between the part of the brain that processes auditory signals with the emotional and social signals. In essence, parts of the brain are connecting differently. Some argue that there have to be other deciding factors in who experiences this, but the study concludes that “effects are not attributable to gender, ethnicity, IQ and language differences, years of musical training or personality.”

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