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Aesthetic Chills to Treat Depression? Psychogenic Shivers, Frisson, Goosebumps (2024 Study)

Depression, a prevalent mental health issue, often resists traditional treatments, making innovative approaches necessary.

Recent research suggests that ‘aesthetic chills’—a peak emotional response accompanied by physical sensations like goosebumps—might offer significant benefits in treating depression.


  • Prevalence of Depression: Over 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, making it a critical global health concern.
  • Limitations of Current Treatments: Traditional pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments for depression often have limited effectiveness.
  • Aesthetic Chills: Characterized by physical sensations like shivers and goosebumps, aesthetic chills are peak emotional responses to stimuli such as music, art, or speech.
  • Potential for Treatment: Preliminary research indicates that aesthetic chills might influence reward-related neural pathways and modify core maladaptive beliefs in depression.

Source: BMC Psychiatry (2024)

What are “Aesthetic Chills” (Psychogenic Shivers, Frisson, Goosebumps)?

Aesthetic chills, also known as psychogenic shivers or frisson, are a unique physiological and emotional reaction characterized by a fleeting sensation of intense pleasure, often accompanied by a tingling or shivering sensation and goosebumps.

This response is typically triggered by specific stimuli such as powerful music, art, profound speeches, or deeply moving experiences.

These experiences are often unexpected and involve a sense of novelty or a profound emotional or intellectual resonance.

The chills are thought to be the body’s way of reacting to intense emotional arousal, possibly as an evolutionary mechanism to reinforce behaviors or experiences that are perceived as rewarding or valuable.

Aesthetic Chills (Physiological Mechanisms)

The exact mechanisms behind aesthetic chills are complex and not fully understood, but they are believed to involve several brain regions and neurotransmitter systems:

  • Reward System Activation: Aesthetic chills are thought to activate the brain’s reward system, particularly areas rich in dopaminergic pathways like the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the nucleus accumbens (NAc). This activation leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and emotional arousal.
  • Emotional Processing: Regions involved in emotional processing, such as the amygdala and the insula, are also believed to play a role. These areas help in interpreting the emotional significance of a stimulus, contributing to the intensity of the chill experience.
  • Cognitive Appraisal: The prefrontal cortex, responsible for higher cognitive functions, may contribute to the generation of chills by appraising the stimulus’ aesthetic or emotional value, leading to a heightened emotional response.
  • Physiological Response: The autonomic nervous system is involved in producing the physical sensations of chills, like goosebumps and shivering. These responses are part of the body’s reaction to emotionally arousing stimuli.

Aesthetic Chills for Depression: Why They Might Be Beneficial

Aesthetic chills might be particularly beneficial in the context of depression for several reasons:

Emotional Activation

For individuals with depression, especially those experiencing emotional numbness or anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), aesthetic chills could act as a catalyst for emotional activation.

The intense emotional response elicited by chills can break through the typical emotional blunting seen in depression.

Cognitive Flexibility

The experience of aesthetic chills may induce a state of cognitive flexibility similar to that reported in psychedelic therapy.

This state can allow individuals to reframe and reassess entrenched negative thought patterns, a core component of cognitive restructuring in depression treatment.

Enhanced Reward Sensitivity

Since depression is often linked to dysfunctions in the brain’s reward system, the dopaminergic activation associated with aesthetic chills might help in rebalancing these neural pathways.

This could restore some of the natural reward sensitivity lost in depression, improving mood and motivation.

Positive Self-Schema Development

The significant improvement in self-acceptance observed in studies suggests that chills can positively influence self-schema.

By mitigating feelings of shame and worthlessness, they can help develop a more positive self-image, crucial in overcoming depressive symptoms.

Mindfulness & Presence

Engaging with stimuli that induce chills can encourage a state of mindfulness and presence, helping individuals with depression to focus on the present moment and derive pleasure from it, counteracting tendencies towards rumination and negative forecasting.

Aesthetic Chills & Depression (2024 Study): Overview

Schoeller et al. explored the potential of aesthetic chills as a non-pharmacological intervention in depression.

Aesthetic chills are characterized by a peak emotional response, often accompanied by physical sensations like goosebumps.

The study specifically aimed to determine whether these chills could influence reward-related neural pathways and alter core maladaptive beliefs associated with depression.


  • Participants: The study enrolled 96 patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
  • Stimuli: Utilized a database of multimedia known to elicit chills responses (ChillsDB) for stimulus presentation.
  • Assessment Tools: Participants’ emotional responses and shifts in self-schema were assessed using the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory (EBI) and the Young Positive Schema Questionnaire (YPSQ).
  • Procedure: Participants were exposed to chill-inducing stimuli and their responses were recorded both before and after the exposure.


  • Emotional Impact: The study found a positive influence of chill-inducing stimuli on the core self-schema of individuals with depression.
  • Self-Acceptance: Participants who experienced chills demonstrated a significant improvement in self-acceptance and a reduction in feelings of shame.
  • Similarity to Psychedelic Experiences: The phenomenology triggered by chills showed similarities to altered states of consciousness induced by psychedelics, suggesting a potential for chills to mimic psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.


  • Sample Size and Diversity: The study had a limited and potentially non-representative sample size.
  • Lack of Formal Diagnostic Assessment: There was no formal diagnostic assessment by a clinician at the time of the intervention.
  • Self-Report Measures: The effects of chills on shame and self-acceptance were assessed using self-report measures, which may be subject to bias.
  • Need for Further Research: More robust evidence is required to confirm these findings, necessitating further research with larger, more diverse samples, objective measures, and controlled experimental designs.

Advanced Details of the Aesthetic Chills in Depression (2024 Study)

The results of the study on aesthetic chills and depression provided nuanced insights into the potential therapeutic effects of aesthetic chills:

Emotional Breakthrough & Chills Correlation

The study found a strong correlation between the intensity of chills experienced and the degree of emotional breakthrough.

Participants who reported more intense chills also reported higher scores on the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory (EBI), indicating a more significant shift in emotional states.

Specific Impact on Self-Acceptance

The improvement in self-acceptance was particularly notable.

Participants who experienced chills showed statistically significant improvement in their self-acceptance scores on the Young Positive Schema Questionnaire (YPSQ).

This change suggests that chills may specifically target and mitigate feelings of shame and low self-worth common in depression.

Valence & Arousal Changes

Participants who experienced chills reported greater positive shifts in emotional valence (pleasure-displeasure spectrum) and arousal (calm-excited spectrum) after exposure to the stimuli.

This indicates that chills not only improved mood but also increased emotional responsiveness, an area often blunted in depression.

Dopaminergic Activation Hypothesis

The study hypothesized that the chills might be activating the brain’s reward system, particularly dopaminergic pathways.

This hypothesis aligns with known mechanisms of emotional processing and reward in the brain, suggesting a neurophysiological basis for the observed effects.

Comparison with Psychedelic Experiences

The study drew parallels between the chills experience and altered states of consciousness achieved through psychedelic substances.

This comparison suggests that chills might induce a similar form of cognitive and emotional flexibility that is beneficial in therapeutic settings.

What are the implications (aesthetic chills & depression study)?

The findings from this study have several significant implications:

Non-Pharmacological Intervention for Depression

The ability of aesthetic chills to induce positive emotional and cognitive changes presents a potential non-pharmacological approach for treating depression.

This could be particularly beneficial for patients who are resistant to traditional treatments or experience adverse side effects from medications.

Personalized Therapy Options

Given the subjective nature of aesthetic chills, this approach could pave the way for more personalized therapy options.

Different stimuli that elicit chills could be tailored to individual preferences, enhancing engagement and effectiveness.

Understanding Emotional Processing in Depression

The study contributes to a deeper understanding of emotional processing in depression.

By linking aesthetic chills to changes in self-schema and emotional states, the research offers insights into how certain emotional experiences can counteract depressive symptoms.

Potential Integration with Psychotherapy

The similarities between the effects of chills and psychedelic experiences suggest that chills could be integrated into psychotherapeutic practices.

This integration could enhance the efficacy of therapy by inducing a more receptive and flexible cognitive state in patients.

Future Research Directions

The study underscores the need for further research, particularly in understanding the neurobiological mechanisms behind aesthetic chills and their long-term effects on mental health.

Such research could lead to more effective and comprehensive treatment strategies for depression and other mental health disorders.

How to Induce Aesthetic Chills (Possible Strategies)

Aesthetic chills, or those moments of intense emotional arousal accompanied by physical sensations like goosebumps, can be a profoundly moving experience.

However, inducing these chills is somewhat subjective and can vary greatly from person to person.

Engage with Powerful Art & Music

Music: Listening to music with emotional significance, complex harmonies, sudden changes in volume, or unexpected resolutions can evoke chills. Pieces that build to a crescendo or have emotional lyrics are often potent triggers.

Art and Literature: Viewing powerful and evocative art or reading deeply moving literature can also elicit chills. Look for works that resonate on a personal level or convey profound human experiences.

Immersive Experiences

Engaging in immersive experiences that fully capture your attention and emotion can trigger chills.

This might include watching a gripping movie, attending a live performance, or experiencing a virtual reality scenario that deeply resonates with you.

Nature & Vastness

Experiencing the sublime in nature, such as witnessing a breathtaking landscape, a stunning sunset, or the vastness of the night sky, can often bring about aesthetic chills.

Personal Resonance & Nostalgia

Engage with content that has personal significance.

Nostalgic moments, memories, or experiences that connect you to a significant time, place, or emotion in your life can be powerful triggers.

Mindfulness & Emotional Openness

Approach experiences with mindfulness and openness to emotion.

Being fully present and allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable can heighten the likelihood of experiencing chills.

Seek Out Novelty & Surprise

Novel experiences or those that bring an element of surprise or awe can be effective in inducing chills.

This might involve exploring new genres of music, art, or literature that you are unfamiliar with.

Cultural & Spiritual Practices

Participating in cultural or spiritual rituals that are meaningful and emotionally charged can also induce chills.

This could include religious ceremonies, traditional dances, or cultural festivals.

Physical Sensations & Setting

Sometimes, physical sensations like a gentle touch or being in a particular setting, like a dimly lit room or a place with a certain ambiance, can enhance the likelihood of experiencing chills.

Social & Shared Experiences

Shared emotional experiences with others, such as being part of a crowd at a concert or participating in a group activity that is emotionally charged, can amplify the feelings that lead to chills.

Reflection & Personal Insight

Engaging in deep personal reflection or activities that offer new insights into one’s life, such as certain types of meditation or guided introspection, can sometimes trigger chills.

Note: It’s important to note that what induces chills in one person might not have the same effect on someone else.

It’s a highly individual experience, influenced by personal tastes, emotional states, and life experiences.

Experimenting with different stimuli and being attuned to your emotional responses is key to discovering what most effectively induces aesthetic chills for you.

Takeaway: Aesthetic Chills & Depression

Aesthetic chills represent a fascinating intersection of emotional, physiological, and neurological responses, offering significant potential in the realm of mental health, particularly in treating depression.

They are unique in their ability to elicit profound emotional experiences, often accompanied by physical sensations like goosebumps, triggered by stimuli such as powerful music, art, or nature.

The mechanisms behind these chills, though not fully understood, are believed to involve the brain’s reward system and emotional processing centers, suggesting a complex interplay between cognitive and physiological responses.

The preliminary findings indicating their potential in mitigating symptoms of depression, particularly through enhancing self-acceptance and emotional breakthroughs, open new avenues for non-pharmacological therapeutic interventions.

However, the subjective nature of what elicits chills and their varied manifestations across individuals highlight the need for further research to fully harness their therapeutic potential.

Ultimately, aesthetic chills offer a glimpse into the profound ways in which our emotional and sensory experiences are deeply intertwined and can be pivotal in our overall well-being and mental health.


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