William Halimou (Will) is a 4th year undergraduate student at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, USA. He is a neuroscience major with a strong interest in music composition and ASMR.
For his Sensory Neuroscience Senior Seminar course he decided to write a review paper about music-induced chills, and he also included ASMR in his paper.
Will shared his paper with me and I found it very well researched and written. His depth of knowledge on music-induced chills and interest in ASMR made him a terrific resource for comparing these two phenomena.
In my interview with Will he explains which aspects of music may induce chills, evolutionary theories about music chills, how music chills are similar and different from ASMR tingles, and some terrific research ideas to help understand ASMR better.
Below are my questions in bold, his replies in italics, a link to his Soundcloud page, and a link to his ASMR-music fusion project.
What are the sensations associated with music-induced chills?
Will, “Music-induced chills are a form of frisson in that they consist of involuntary shivers and tingles down the back and arms (sometimes even other areas) and goosebumps, accompanied by positive feelings. These chills been appropriately called “goosetingles” by some.”
Are there types or styles of music that are more likely to induce chills?
Will, “From my research so far, it seems that chill-inducing music is very personal, and varies across individuals. However, one study by Grewe et al. did observe that musical passages containing new or unexpected harmonies or sudden dynamic or textural changes evoked shivers the most.
Another study by Harrison and Loui found that peaks in loudness, moments of modulation and melodies in the human voice or human vocal register were common chill-inducers. All in all, while chill-inducing music is largely personal, there may be some general music features that more commonly evoke chills.”
Are there evolutionary theories to explain music chills?
Will, “Panksepp and Bernatzky conducted PET imaging studies of brain areas that are thought to play a role in separation distress and observed activity in these regions during the experience of chills. Therefore, chills could possibly be related to socio-emotional systems that generate separation-distress.
This idea ties together with the previously mentioned observation that human voices or melodies in the human vocal range elicit the most chills. The “voices” in the music could be reminiscent of a child calling out to its parent. With more experiments and evidence to bolster it, this idea could provide an interesting framework for viewing music-induced and even ASMR chills.”
Does everyone experience music chills? Are there personality types more likely or less likely to experience it?
Will, “Although everyone is physically capable of experiencing chills, not everyone does experience them. Rather than factors such as age, gender and music education, recent research has suggested that personality factors such as higher general reward sensitivity are more likely to experience chills.”
How do you think music chills are different from ASMR tingles?
Will, “Music chills seem to be more emotionally driven and less related to relaxation than ASMR tingles. There is higher emotional arousal with music induced chills, accompanied by increased heart rate and the presence of goose bumps. ASMR tingles are not associated with arousal, but rather with calmness.”
How do you think music chills are similar to ASMR tingles?
Will, “For starters, they are both pleasant physical sensations in direct response to auditory stimuli. Both are associated with a sort of euphoria (albeit more subdued in ASMR) and both involve tingles affecting similar areas, namely the back of the neck and spine.
Another commonality is that both are private experiences, as most people listen to ASMR alone, and studies have demonstrated that people experience higher frequency and intensity of music-induced chills when alone as well.”
How would you describe your own music chills and ASMR tingles?
Will, “When I experience chills from music, it is a cathartic feeling, usually a resolution of tension and anticipation. Typically, I experience these types of chills during familiar pieces of music, especially when an intense section that I have been anticipating finally arrives.
ASMR tingles on the other hand make me feel blissfully numb and I almost feel like my brain is switching off. While listening to ASMR, I feel a profound feeling of safety and comfort. Ultimately, both sensations make me feel euphoric, but in different ways.”
Which research methods used to study music chills might be most helpful to better understand ASMR tingles?
Will, “An interesting direction for ASMR concerns the relationship between personality factors and ASMR experience, which Bev Fredborg and Stephen Smith are already tackling. Some of the literature about music-induced chills could definitely contribute to this realm.
For example, a study by Mori and Iwanaga observed that people with high resting psychophysiological arousal frequently experience chills. This relationship also makes sense in light of other findings, which discovered that music-induced chills increased heart rate and skin conductance responses (a measure of arousal).
It could be interesting to explore whether people with high resting psychophysiological arousal are more prone to experience ASMR as well. Indeed, Emma L. Barratt and Nick J. Davis conducted a survey, which found that 98% of people use ASMR to relax and 70% use ASMR to cope with stress. Therefore, ASMR could very well be a way for people prone to high emotional arousal to self-medicate.
Another finding in the literature on music-induced chills was that people more often experience chills when listening to music that they have selected, as opposed to experimenter selected music. A similar test could be done with ASMR, as triggers are extremely individualized. In addition, fMRI studies could be done for ASMR in order to observe neural connectivity and activation patterns, and search for a neural signature unique to ASMR.
A future direction that I am especially excited to explore is how and when ASMR preferences develop. Perhaps longitudinal tests starting in infancy and continuing through young adulthood could elucidate this question.”
What thoughts and/or ideas do you have about the fusion of music and ASMR triggers?
Will, “I think that the fusion of music and ASMR could really be a powerful form of entertainment, relaxation and even emotional healing. Music has the ability to induce catharsis in people and ASMR provides people with a comfortable and relaxing virtual bubble.
A paper by Joceline Andersen discusses how the whispered quality of ASMR draws people in and impels them to pay close attention to the sounds that they hear. Indeed, ASMR seems to deconstruct all linguistic borders, leaving behind a nebulous sonic soup in which every minutia is significant.
The ASMR sounds that the listener is so intimately engaged with could gradually transform into music, combining peaceful, effortless focus with affective release.”
Special Note: Will is undertaking a project to create ASMR-inducing music and has offered to share his journey on this site.
Click HERE to follow Will’s ASMR-music fusion journey.
Click HERE to visit Will’s Soundcloud page.
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