That feeling certain songs give you is a 'skin orgasm'

'You see a similar response when people take drugs or have sex'

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A frisson, goose bumps, shivers, hair standing on end... there have been a number of attempts to capture linguistically the effect a song has when it hits your sweet spot, but one psychologist think it amounts to a "skin orgasm", given its cerebral similarities to the joy of sex.

Maybe it occurs for you during a particularly haunting track, a life-affirmingly ecstatic one or a purring down-tempo song, but pretty much everyone can relate to that feeling that suddenly hits, dancing up your spine, making braille on your skin.

Science writer and brain expert David Robson wrote about it in a recent piece for the BBC, invoking the work of Wesleyan University psychologist Psyche Loui.


Drawing comparisons with the sonic experience and sex and drugs, Robson wrote:

"For instance, violated expectations seem to startle (albeit gently) the automatic nervous system, in its most primitive region, the brain stem – producing the racing heart, the breathlessness, the flush that can signal the onset of a frisson. What’s more, the anticipation, violation, and resolution of our expectations triggers the release of dopamine in two key regions – the caudate and the nucleus accumbens, shortly before and just after the frisson. You see a similar response when people take drugs or have sex, which may explain why we find shiver-inducing songs so addictive, says Loui. (Along similar lines, when pharmacologist Avram Goldestein at Stanford University blocked the brain’s opiate signaling – a system that controls reward and addiction – he found that it significantly reduced volunteers' ability to feel skin orgasms.)"

It is thought that the sensation most commonly occurs when notes clash with melodies or there is a sudden switch in key change or volume.

It has been described in sexual terms before, with a 1991 study finding that respondents reported "trembling, flushing, sweating and sexual arousal" when listening to certain pieces of music.

As with the euphoric feeling of certain drugs or the tranquillity felt post-sex, it's been asserted that listening to moving music can have social benefits, with another study finding that volunteers experiencing goose bumps were more like to behave altruistically.

Here's a quick playlist of  guaranteed skin orgasm-inducing tracks, as sourced from our office:

Particularly 2:54 in this...

This whole album: