Project

Frisson

Adam Haar Horowitz

Groups

Inspiration

There’s a feeling that comes tingling down the spine in certain moments: when a favorite moment of a favorite song comes on, or when a turn of phrase in a powerful speech really resonates. That feeling of shivers down your spine and tingling on your arms is called aesthetic chills, or frisson. 

Scientific Background

This wave of chills brought by an experience of frisson is experimentally tied to peak emotional experiences and meaning-making moments during exposure to different stimuli, such as  songs or speeches or art pieces. Conveniently, aesthetic chills seem to be an almost universal marker of peak emotional experiences across a wide range of cultures and continents. This universality is really rare—usually, expressions of emotion are quite different across cultural contexts—and this means that we can potentially use chills as a way to study emotion in the body in diverse peoples and places. 

The field of embodied cognition, in addition to finding body-based correlates of emotional experience, has also illuminated many links between our physical and psychol… View full description

Inspiration

There’s a feeling that comes tingling down the spine in certain moments: when a favorite moment of a favorite song comes on, or when a turn of phrase in a powerful speech really resonates. That feeling of shivers down your spine and tingling on your arms is called aesthetic chills, or frisson. 

Scientific Background

This wave of chills brought by an experience of frisson is experimentally tied to peak emotional experiences and meaning-making moments during exposure to different stimuli, such as  songs or speeches or art pieces. Conveniently, aesthetic chills seem to be an almost universal marker of peak emotional experiences across a wide range of cultures and continents. This universality is really rare—usually, expressions of emotion are quite different across cultural contexts—and this means that we can potentially use chills as a way to study emotion in the body in diverse peoples and places. 

The field of embodied cognition, in addition to finding body-based correlates of emotional experience, has also illuminated many links between our physical and psychological experiences. Studies on misattribution of arousal show us we can drive cognition by driving physical sensation, for instance increasing people's heart rate to increase their likelihood of romantic attraction (people feel a fast heart rate and think they must be attracted to someone, reasoning from the body upwards). This points to opportunities, because if we can drive frisson perhaps we can also drive the downstream cognitive effects of frisson: these include pleasure, inspiration, openness to experience, relief in stress, increase in empathy, and experience of meaning .

Engineering and Experimentation

This project unites embodied cognition and on-body device design to ask questions about the origin of emotions and the potential to hack our brains and behavior by hacking the body.  At once transcendent and physiological, the subtle signals of beauty and semantics meet mechanism as the sublime literally cascades across skin. So we built a device meant to trigger frisson. Alongside Félix Schoeller, a scientist who specializes in researching chills at the Paris CRI, we're testing whether our device can 1) reliably induce chills in participants and 2) can recreate the downstream cognitive effects of chills, including pleasure and empathy. This device is a working prototype, and we're in the process of publishing results from our first experiment on stimulating chills and empathy. Our vision is psychophysiology driving thought from the spine upwards!