What’s giving you goosebumps?

What’s giving you goosebumps?

  • Research from Barclaycard reveals 7 in 10 Brits think goosebumps are a marker of great live entertainment, but only 16 per cent of us understand where the physiological phenomenon comes from
  •  The theory of goosebumps is unveiled as a part of Barclaycard’s Summer of Goosebumps study, a pioneering investigation in partnership with Matthew Sachs, Harvard University researcher
  • Intensity of lyrics, rising pitch, harmonic intervals and collective crowd singing revealed as key factors in delivering the shivers
  • The announcement marks the launch of Barclaycard’s Entertainment partnership with Live Nation, which sees sponsorship of eight festivals across the summer and exclusive event perks for cardholders including 10 per cent back on festival pre-sales and many other benefits

New research released today by Barclaycard reveals that the majority of Brits (71 per cent) think getting goosebumps is the top sign of a great live entertainment experience*. However, a mere 16 per cent are able to identify why some performances deliver the shivers more than others.

In partnership with Harvard University researcher Matthew Sachs, Barclaycard has unveiled the theory behind ‘getting the goosebumps’ in a pioneering new study into music and emotion.

Based on a meta-analysis investigating the physiological and emotional response to live music, the study shows that emotional intensity, acoustic changes, and a crowd’s familiarity of a song are key to predicting the likelihood of experiencing goosebumps. Audience size and mood are also contributing factors, alongside ambience and environment**.

The Goosebumps Theory

Matthew used his scientific analysis to develop the first ever theory calculating the likelihood of getting goosebumps during a live performance

Pgoosebumps = percentage chance of getting goosebumps

Pgoosebumps = CF (Sc + Id + Ap)

CF – cognitive factors e.g. personal meaning of a song

Sc – social and environmental context e.g. collective experience

Id – individual differences e.g. active engagement with music

Ap – acoustic properties e.g. rapid Increase / decrease in volume

The investigation was commissioned as part of Barclaycard’s Summer of Goosebumps Study, the most in-depth investigation of its kind into the science behind the physiological phenomenon.

An accompanying Barclaycard survey of 2,000 Brits found the emotional effect of a live music experience is also enhanced by being amongst friends (41 per cent), singing along with the crowd (41 per cent) and watching your favourite artist perform (40 per cent).

The research also revealed that while 71 per cent of Brits have experienced the chills during live entertainment, 13 per cent incorrectly believe that romantic attraction is actually the key cause of goosebumps – with almost one in ten putting the sensation down to simply feeling cold (9 per cent).

Although 60 per cent of Brits associate goosebumps with the feeling of excitement, the new theory suggests that a personal relevance to the song, collective crowd experience and a rapid increase or decrease in volume are more important when it comes to delivering the shivers.

Time of day is also a significant factor, with over half (56 per cent) of respondents feeling more goosebumps after 5pm than at any other time during a live music performance, with the optimum time for a goosebump moment identified as 6.37pm.

Rock music was voted the genre most expected to cause goosebumps (31 per cent), followed by pop (29 per cent) and Indie (7 per cent). House tunes (6 per cent) and classical symphonies (5 per cent) complete the top five. 

What’s more, Brits believe that watching their favourite band perform (28 per cent) is more likely to deliver the shivers than getting married (27 per cent), with only the sight of their new born child expected to create a greater goosebump-inducing moment (40 per cent).

And it appears old flames burn the brightest for Brits, as over a tenth of respondents admit their most treasured memory of a great live music experience includes their ex or someone they used to date (11 per cent). Die-hard fans don’t need anyone by their side, with 5 per cent enjoying their best live music experience while on their own.

Daniel Mathieson, Head of Experiential Marketing at Barclaycard, said:

“Most people can identify with getting the chills while enjoying live entertainment, but very few actually understand the theory behind it. In just the first phase of our study, our goosebumps theory will finally provide some understanding of what causes the incredible phenomenon and makes live music so captivating.”

Matthew Sachs, Researcher at Harvard University, added:

“Many studies have attempted to investigate what causes the emotion we feel while listening to music, but these have typically taken place in a lab setting. We’ve never before been able to explore how multiple factors influence the likelihood of experiencing goosebumps in a real world context. It’s hugely exciting to be able to explore the physiological correlates of aesthetic emotions for the first time during live performances this summer.”

With a long history of supporting live entertainment, Barclaycard will help customers get more from their experience this summer. The Barclaycard Entertainment Live Nation Partnership kicked off with Download Festival on the 8th of June, with the Isle of Wight Festival, Latitude, Lovebox, Citadel, RiZE Festival, Creamfields and Reading & Leeds Festival to follow.

This summer, Matthew Sachs alongside a team of researchers will conduct a physiological study on-site at two UK music festivals. The test will monitor and evaluate fans’ physiological responses to music in a live festival setting, while qualitative metrics will also measure emotional responses.

The results will be revealed by Barclaycard at a later date.

Notes to Editors

* A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults was conducted by One Poll between 7th – 10th June 2018.

** Matthew Sachs, researcher at Harvard University reviewed existing qualitative and quantitative research on the phenomenon of experiencing strong emotions in response to music and combined this knowledge with his own results from studies conducted in a laboratory at Harvard and the University of Southern California to develop the theory. The theory predicts the likelihood of experiencing goosebumps during live music performances and takes into account specific musical features of songs, individual differences in personality, as well as external and situational variables such as crowd influence, setting, attention and mood. 

In detail: Four factors used to produce the Barclaycard Goosebump theory

  1. Cognitive Factors: liking / familiarity with the song, mood, attention, personal meaning and memories
  2. Social and Environmental Context: synchrony with music and other people, collective experience with close others, external mood or attention to external variables (e.g. weather and time of day), witnessing technical skill of a performer(s)
  3. Individual Differences: openness to new experiences, tendency to fantasise, active engagement with music, knowledge and appreciation for music
  4. Acoustic Properties: sudden entrance / exit new voice or instrument, harmony, rise in pitch, rapid increase / decrease in volume and tempo

The Barclaycard Goosebump physiological experiment

Matthew Sachs, researcher at Harvard University alongside a team of further researchers will conduct a physiological study, on-site at two UK music festivals this summer. The test will monitor and evaluate music fans’ physiological responses to music in a live festival setting, while qualitative metrics will also measure emotional responses.

For further information please contact Rebecca Butler, PR Manager at Barclaycard on Rebecca.butler@barclaycard.co.uk / 020 7116 1993 

About Barclaycard

Barclaycard, part of Barclays Bank PLC, is a leading global payment business that helps consumers, retailers and businesses to make and take payments flexibly, and to access short-term credit and point-of-sale finance. In 2017 we processed over £250bn in transactions globally. Barclaycard is a pioneer of new forms of payment and is at the forefront of developing viable contactless and mobile payment schemes for today and cutting-edge forms of payment for the future. We also partner with a wide range of organisations across the globe to offer their customers or members payment options and credit.


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