Cortical Patterns of Pleasurable Musical Chills Revealed by High-Density EEG

Front Neurosci. 2020 Nov 3;14:565815. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.565815. eCollection 2020.


Music has the capacity to elicit strong positive feelings in humans by activating the brain's reward system. Because group emotional dynamics is a central concern of social neurosciences, the study of emotion in natural/ecological conditions is gaining interest. This study aimed to show that high-density EEG (HD-EEG) is able to reveal patterns of cerebral activities previously identified by fMRI or PET scans when the subject experiences pleasurable musical chills. We used HD-EEG to record participants (11 female, 7 male) while listening to their favorite pleasurable chill-inducing musical excerpts; they reported their subjective emotional state from low pleasure up to chills. HD-EEG results showed an increase of theta activity in the prefrontal cortex when arousal and emotional ratings increased, which are associated with orbitofrontal cortex activation localized using source localization algorithms. In addition, we identified two specific patterns of chills: a decreased theta activity in the right central region, which could reflect supplementary motor area activation during chills and may be related to rhythmic anticipation processing, and a decreased theta activity in the right temporal region, which may be related to musical appreciation and could reflect the right superior temporal gyrus activity. The alpha frontal/prefrontal asymmetry did not reflect the felt emotional pleasure, but the increased frontal beta to alpha ratio (measure of arousal) corresponded to increased emotional ratings. These results suggest that EEG may be a reliable method and a promising tool for the investigation of group musical pleasure through musical reward processing.

Keywords: EEG; cerebral activity; chills; emotion; high density EEG; music; musical reward; peak pleasure.