For some people, listening to a favorite piece of music can have a profound emotional effect – it can even give them chills.

These “chills” may cause goose bumps or the sensation of hair standing on end. Brain imaging has already proven that music activates emotional and reward centers in the brain.

Researchers in France, however, have now shown that musical enjoyment – indeed, the chill effect – can be tracked and studied using high-density electroencephalography, or HD-EEG. HD-EEG provides more precise localization of brain activity than standard EEG.

This, they say, opens the door to studying groups as they listen to music together – something not previously possible as this type of brain activity used to only be measured by MRI or PET scans. It could be possible for the first time to see if, and how, musical enjoyment is enhanced by real-world settings thanks to mobile wireless EEG headsets.

Authors of a November 2020 Frontiers of Neuroscience paper used HD-EEG to measure musical enjoyment for 18 subjects. All study participants reported having had chills while listening to music in the past.

All subjects were monitored by HD-EEG as they listened to music. Each subject was asked to rate their experience from low musical enjoyment to causing chills. Their surface skin activity was also monitored and compared with the recorded brain activity.

Reports of chills were consistent with skin activity as well as brain activity that is tied to enjoyment, particularly the theta frequency range in the central, right prefrontal, and right temporal regions of the brain.

“Our results suggest that HD-EEG could provide relevant information about musical pleasure and pleasurable musical chills,” the authors wrote.

Further study of the mobile wireless EEG headsets used in this research proved that the technology could be trusted to deliver accurate HD-EEG results.

The wireless technology will help further this research, the authors said, by allowing for enjoyment to be measured in both social contexts and live conditions. This would provide an opportunity to observe the emotional synchronization of groups.

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