Why Your Favorite Song Is Music to Your Ears — and Your Brain

African American woman wearing headphones dancing.
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Ever get chills listening to your favorite music — an old song that brings back memories, or a soaring symphony that transports you to another place? Scientists have a word for those chills: frissons.

To find out more, read Why Your Favorite Songs Give You a Thrill

That’s French for “shudder,” and lots of people experience them. Turns out, they’re an emotional response to music through a complex interaction that happens deep inside your brain.

When music wafts through your ears, it enters the auditory pathways of your brain, where the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine floods into your system and gives you that tingly sensation of pleasure.

But this sensation isn’t the same for everyone. New research shows that this lovely little chill happens more often with people who have stronger connections in these pathways. Who are these lucky folks? It’s more likely to be people with music training and those who are more open to new experiences.

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In other words, the reaction is chemical: No matter how much you love music, when it comes down to experiencing a frisson, it all depends on your individual brain chemistry. But whether music tingles your spine or just gives you some ordinary enjoyment, you’re doing your brain a favor when you listen to music.

Discover more about the way your brain works, and steps you can take to keep it healthy, when you activate your access to AARP Staying Sharp! It’s easy to enroll and is included with your AARP membership.

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