How to

10 February 2017

The Science Behind Goosebumps

Goosebumps, the weird tiny bumps that appear on your skin when feeling cold or experiencing intense, overwhelming emotion are one of those little body responses which some would say are a mystery. Along with tiny bumps, your hairs stand on end simultaneously.

Perhaps you witness stunning talent in singing or performance, or hear a song which triggers your memory to an emotional time in your life. Or your skin is simply exposed to cold air, leaving you shivering and covered in goose pimples. It can often take you by surprise, as it’s an involuntary response to your surroundings or emotions.

The name of the reflex comes simply from what a goose’s skin resembles when being plucked of its feathers - pretty straight forward and literal.

The reason we get them is simple and due to the hormone known as adrenaline. Adrenaline is released from your adrenal glands, two glands situated above the kidneys. The glands release the hormone around the body when experiencing cold temperatures or strong emotions such as fear, surprise or pleasure. Adrenaline also triggers body reflexes such as sweating, shaking, tears, and increased blood pressure, depending on the situation.

Goosebumps are known as the Pilomotor reflex if we’re getting scientific; the hairs rising involuntarily, causing bumps at the base of each hair. These bumps occur due to the miniature muscles, attached to each hair, contracting when adrenaline reaches that part of the body. This causes the areas of skin around the hairs to protrude, leaving the skin with small bumps.

For goose bumps caused by cold temperatures, the rising of the hairs traps a layer of warmth, generating heat and insulating the body. However, this isn’t so effective on humans, due to the hairs being so fine and short. It’s much more effective on animals, especially animals from arctic climates.

The Pilomotor reflex has other uses in animals too, which aren’t useful for humans. Due to animals obviously having longer body hair, when faced with fear which sends adrenaline around the body, as the hairs stand up it makes the animal appear bigger to its predator, in a bid to scare them off.

So, there you have it. The weird and mysterious body response has a pretty logical explanation. The simple science of the reflex is an attempt at keeping the body healthy in terms of heat (even though it’s not quite so effective in that respect.)

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry, with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.