Search icon


26th May 2016

Here’s why you get goosebumps when listening to music


Picture the scene: you’re at a festival, you’ve had a few ciders, the sun is shining and The Stone Roses start to play I Wanna Be Adored.

Your eyes widen, the hairs on the back of your neck begin to pick up, goosebumps form and by the time that bass drum hits you’re throwing yourself about the place.

Or how about this: you’re at a Halloween party, the lights are out and it’s gone on for just a bit too long, and someone hits the Exorcist theme. Again, you’ve had a few ciders and you’re just a bit creeped out. Chills get sent up your spine.

Hearts at Concert

(Anthony Delanoix via Unsplash)

The effect art has on your skin is known as frisson, a French term meaning “aesthetic chills.” Or if you’re someone who researches this sort of thing, you can call it a skin orgasm. Some people get it listening to music, others get it looking at art. Some of us get it watching a film.

But why does it happen? Why does moving art give people goosebumps?

Close-up of a beautiful woman's eye

Some scientists believe that goosebumps are an evolutionary leftover from our early ancestors.

Back in the day before we all invented clothing, goosebumps were the body’s way of keeping you warm when the temperature around you changed suddenly. This is why if you jump into a swimming pool on a sunny day you may still get goosebumps, adrenaline is released and a top layer of your skin’s muscles are contracting quickly to help you maintain a constant level of heat.

So why does this happen when you’re listening to music?

Well it appears that goosebumps can occur when there is a sudden change in your environment when you’re taking in a certain stimulus.

So when the bass drops on a song, or a musical harmony takes an unexpected turn, it can trigger strong emotions which release adrenaline around the body, which of course can lead to goosebumps.

So now you know. And as a certain wise group of people told us, knowing is half the battle.

LISTEN: You Must Be Jokin’ with Aideen McQueen – Faith healers, Coolock craic and Gigging as Gaeilge