“Oooohhhhh, that gave me goose bumps!” I’m sure you’ve said this before, or at least experienced them. If you’ve ever wondered why you get a sudden rush of tiny little bumps on your arms and legs when you get cold, scared, or excited, there are both physiological and psychological reasons for this happening.
A Psychological Response
Our bodies often can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what we are imagining. That’s why you might feel thirsty watching someone on a TV drinking something refreshing. Or also why you might get scared to death watching a horror flick even though rationally you know you’re safe and sound in the theater or in your own living room. Involuntary and automatic reactions to emotion, music, or movies isn’t driven by a physical stimulus, they are psychological. What we feel, hear, or see causes the brain to send messages to the skin. These messages trigger a reflex called piloerection, horripilation, pilomotor reflex, or cutis anserine… all are the proper scientific names for goose bumps.
Why goose bumps?
Much of our body hair is very, very fine, almost undetectable. When the hair in the follicle lifts up, it makes the hair follicle stick out causing your skin to look like a plucked goose’s skin. Skin of a goose or a chicken (and other birds) has a bump at the place where the feather is attached. Each spot on human skin has something very similar to these…thus the expression “goose bumps”.
Goose bumps are uncontrolled responses, like blinking, sweating or an increased heart rate. And just like other emotionally linked reactions (your face getting flushed or butterflies in the stomach), goose bumps are triggered by the limbic system of the brain. This system controls our basic human drives: fear, rage, aggression, sex, and hunger. The limbic system is connected to two parts of the brain: the thalamus and the hypothalamus. These are where we receive virtually all sensory input and cause goose bumps. The responses from this emotional stimulation vary from person to person.
So the next time you experience one of those hair-raising moments, now you know a little something behind what makes goose bumps pop up and say “Hello there!”