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A Quick Explanation of the Physiology of Goosebumps

The Reasons We Get Goosebumps Are Truly Incredible

I bet the AC in your office has given you a fair share of goosebumps. Want to know what causes them? Scientifically speaking, they're triggered by a reflex called piloerection. This reflex causes tiny muscles at the base of each hair to contract, making the little hairs that cover your body to stand up. Which in turn makes little bumps all over your skin, giving it the appearance of a freshly-plucked goose.

When animals get cold, this reflex helps to fluff up their hair or feathers to trap in body heat. Human goosebumps on the other hand are an attempt to make us warm, but since we have such little body hair, goosebumps serve absolutely no purpose.

Goosebumps are also a physical response to fear, just like when you sweat or your heart races. When animals are scared, like a cat or porcupine, they get goosebumps too and their fur or quills stand up, making them look more fierce. Our tiny hairs stand up, too, but I think we can all agree that it doesn't do much to protect us from harm or make us look more ferocious.

Our skin also gets all goosebumpy when we hear beautiful music or a touching story. Like other emotion-linked reflexes such as blushing, turning pale, and butterflies in your tummy, goosebumps are triggered by the limbic system of the brain. This bodily response isn't driven by a physical prompt, but by a psychological one. Yet another example of the mind-body connection. Wow. I just gave myself goosebumps.

Image Source: Shutterstock
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Join The Conversation
evollove evollove 5 years
My friend and I were discussing goosebumps and it seemed that maybe it is a reaction stemming from our ancient ancestry when we were much harrier. When scared, all the hairs are triggered to stand up and become far more sensitive to wind, sound or other frequency interruptions. Nowadays, I suppose that our body's ancestral memory is deeply embedded. So anything that flirts with the emotion of fear, like excitement, wonder, estrangement or something impressively new and/or intellectually stimulating motivates those deep ancestral memories. Just a thought : ) Thanks.
ElectroPopTart ElectroPopTart 8 years
My sister and I get what we call the "Stupid Chills" which are goose bumps that we get when we see something REALLY stupid like old relatives dancing or singing at a party, lol.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
When I hear a touching song I always get goosebumps, I always thought I was just a sap...ha. Now I know. ;)
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
When I hear a touching song I always get goosebumps, I always thought I was just a sap...ha. Now I know. ;)
Spectra Spectra 8 years
I get goosebumps SO easily! My skin's really sensitive to cold and anytime I wear short sleeves, my arm hairs stand up. My dog's hair stands up on end when she gets stressed out or scared and it looks like she's got a doggy mohawk, LOL.
Spectra Spectra 8 years
I get goosebumps SO easily! My skin's really sensitive to cold and anytime I wear short sleeves, my arm hairs stand up.My dog's hair stands up on end when she gets stressed out or scared and it looks like she's got a doggy mohawk, LOL.
gumdrops334 gumdrops334 8 years
i knew about the cold reaction, but never the emotional factor such as beautiful music. I got goosebumps listening to Charice Pempengco on youtube. If you haven't heard her sing, you're missing out!
emalove emalove 8 years
Very interesting...never really thought about this before!
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