A New Study Suggests Songs That Produce “Chills” Could Have Painkilling Effects

A new study from researchers at Montreal’s McGill University suggests that “moving” music—songs that elicit physical reactions like chills, goosebumps, and shivers—could have a painkilling effect as strong as over-the-counter medicines.

Speaking about the study to The Guardian, first author Darius Valevicius said, “We can approximate that favorite music reduced pain by about one point on a 10-point scale, which is at least as strong as painkillers like Advil under the same conditions.”

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Pain Research, gauged the pain levels of 63 healthy participants while applying painful levels of heat to their left arm—similar to a hot cup of coffee being held on one’s skin.

Throughout this process, participants either listened to two of their own favorite songs, pre-selected relaxing music, a random collection of tunes, or nothing at all. They were then asked to rate both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain they experienced.

Participants also ranked music pleasantness—how “moving” the music that they listened to was—measured by how many “chills” it produced. The study describes chills as, “sudden emotions or heightened attention that can be felt as tingling, shivers, or goosebumps.”

After comparing the results, researchers found a strong correlation between music pleasantness rankings and pain unpleasantness rankings.

The study also indicated that there was “zero correlation between music pleasantness and pain intensity, which would be an unlikely finding if it was just placebo or expectation effects,” Valevicius told The Guardian.

“The difference in effect on pain intensity implies two mechanisms—chills may have a physiological sensory-gating effect, blocking ascending pain signals, while pleasantness may affect the emotional value of pain without affecting the sensation,” he added, before cautioning that more research is necessary to fully test the theory.

Read the complete study results here.

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Written by
Peter Volpe

Journalism student at The Ohio State University who loves beeps and boops!

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