One application of musical frisson that excites me is its potential to contribute to listener health. Oliver Sachs’ wonderful work and the dramatic effects of music on his patients has been a long-standing inspiration for our team. We are also eagerly tracking the work of the Sync Project, which is studying how structural properties of music impact biometrics (and has frisson researcher Robert Zatorre on its board).
With frisson, I often find myself going back to moving songs that I know give me chills to decompress after a long day at work. Several commentators have also noted anecdotally that frisson improves their mood and helps them de-stress. We’ve even met one doctor who prescribes frisson songs to his patients on the basis that he thinks it improves heart health!
I made an immediate connection to this idea of frisson as stress relief when I saw a video from CNN over the Halloween holiday. Remember, the core mechanism underlying musical frisson is the triggering of our fight-or-flight fear response.
It seems to me that with scary movies and frisson music, the common, underlying fight-or-flight mechanism can potentially be used more deliberately to help us all relax and manage the stressors of daily life.
This theme of frisson as a fun, uplifting escape is consistent with our crowdsourced dataset. Some of the most popular, consistent submissions were surprising, feel-good performances like those from Paul Potts, Susan Boyle, and Charlotte and Jonathan. One performance that I had not encountered before, but that really worked for me (especially those harmonies from 0:53-1:03), is a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by The Cactus Cuties. These ladies rock!
With national anthems, there is always a possibility that its the patriotic associations we have with the piece that induce chills, rather than the music/performance itself. Indeed, frisson researchers have verified this mechanism. What I love about this video, however, is that the Youtube comments are riddled with folks from other countries saying things like “Damn this video gave me chills and I’m not even American.” So even though I’m sure patriotic associations are triggered for American listeners, we have evidence this performance also works for broader audiences.
Another view is that its the contrast of how young and cute the performers are with the power of their singing that causes frisson. The video undoubtedly enhances frisson for viewers, but at least my team and I still get chills on a blind listen. And to me, this is all another data point that there are acoustic structures (in this case the Harmonicity pattern these ladies achieve throughout the song) that can reliably produce frisson for many listeners simply through patterns of sound.
To date, we are not aware of any scientific studies that directly probe the relationship between frisson and health. But, we’re hoping to eventually collaborate with academic partners and use Qbrio to test if music-induced frisson can be causally linked with positive health outcomes.