QM is a series by Kristin Robbio, where she aims to debunk common myths using her baseline knowledge of science, technology, and ability to strategically research random shit through Google.
Fall is a frightening time of year. Halloween is around the corner, every TV network and movie theater is showing their most terrifying scary movies and Donald Trump is running for president. Overall, there’s a lot happening that can give you the creeps and often when we’re creeped out, we get goosebumps.
R.L. Stine’s books didn’t fail me when I was a kid and don’t fail me now — goosebumps are a real phenomenon that occur in a variety of situations, two of the most common being when we’re cold and when we’re scared.
The functionality is pretty simple. The arrector pili muscles directly under your skin are attached to each hair follicle. When you’re cold, these muscles contract, creating itsy bitsy depressions in the skin that cause everything around them to stand up (i.e. your arm hair). Alas, you have goosebumps.
Like many of our biological characteristics, we inherited goosebumps from animals. For them, this trait makes sense. When their hair stands up, it adds an extra layer of insulation so they stay warm. We humans we have things like clothes, fireplaces, and microwaves to provide that warmth. But for me in Los Angeles, all of this is completely irrelevant (like, what are seasons).
Animals also get their version of “goosebumps” when they’re threatened, which is why when your dog is growling at the mailman through the door, their hair stands up. This allows them to seem bigger and more intimidating.
So why do we get goosebumps? It’s clear they serve no real evolutionary advantage for humans. Goosebumps are not only a physiological response, but an emotional response to stimuli. Since humans are so relationship driven, goosebumps can be an important physical indicator of emotion.
The emotional response of goosebumps is driven by adrenaline. Humans have spikes in adrenaline when we’re cold, afraid, stressed or experiencing strong emotions. When a human experiences an “adrenaline rush,” those arrector pili muscles in the skin contract and BAM! you’ve got goosebumps.
Also, in case you were wondering where the name “goosebumps” comes from, it’s because our skin resembles what a bird’s skin looks like when you’ve plucked all the hair off. Quite an image, huh?
- Video: Why Do We Get Goosebumps? on DNews
- Video: The Science of Goosebumps and Music Chills on AsapSCIENCE
- Why Do We Yawn, Hiccup and Get Goosebumps? by the Cleveland Clinic
- Why do humans get “goosebumps” when they are cold, or under other circumstances? on Scientific American