I always assumed that the shivers that run up your spine and raise the skin on your arms in goosebumps in response to music or art was something that everyone could experience, given the right stimulus. Apparently though, it is reserves to somewhere between half and two-thirds of the population. The fact that this sensation is being referred to by some researchers as a “skin orgasm” is both amusing and so apt that, from now on, I wont be able to think of it as anything else.
I had previously heard that this sensation is due to a sort of misfiring of our adrenaline-fueled “flight or fight” response. The idea was that goosebumps, while commonly known as being a response to cold, were also a mechanism for raising the hair that once covered our bodies. Many animals raise their fur in an effort to appear larger when faced with a possible threat. While we have lost most of our hair, I had heard the hypothesis that we retained this response, and this is why our skin could sometimes raise goosebumps when confronted with a strong emotional reaction.
According to some researchers, however, people who experience skin orgasms are just wired differently
The researchers found that the brains of individuals who occasionally feel a chill while listening to music were wired differently than the control subjects. They had more nerve fibers connecting auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound, to their anterior insular cortex, a region involved in processing feelings. The auditory cortex also had strong links to parts of the brain that may monitor emotions.
So why do so many get the chills when the music is just right? “The chills is a sensation we get when we’re cold. It doesn’t really make sense that your hair would stand on end, or that you’d get these goosebumps in response to music,” Matthew Sachs, an author of the paper, tells Sample. “We think that the connectivity between the auditory cortex and these other regions is allowing music to have that profound emotional response in these people. It’s very hard to know whether or not this is learned over time, or whether these people naturally had more fibers. All we can say is there are differences that might explain the behavior we see.”
Using brain scans in an effort to explain these phenomena in people is something that is also hotly contested by some. The limitations of boiling down human emotional responses to colorful brain scans notwithstanding, the fact that many experience genuine physical responses to music and/or art is undeniable.
Personally, I have noticed that a skin orgasm is more likely to happen when I hear something for the first time, and the effect can wear off when I repeat it a few times. However, there are some stimuli that evoke a skin orgasm no matter how many times I listen to them. One is the final battle in the Harry Potter audiobooks, read by Stephen Fry. The other is this video. Every. Single. Time.
What about you? Do you get skin orgasms? If so, from what?