Goosebumps: Why they Occur and What they Mean?

goosebumps how they work

Ever notice the small bumps that can temporarily develop on your skin? Often called “goosebumps” the origin of the name is as literal as it sounds – they feel very similar to goose skin.

Goosebumps often occur as a result of emotions. In some instances, this can be brought on alongside a fearful reaction while in other situations it can be brought on by nostalgia and looking back fondly on something in your mind. Even more commonly it can come as a reaction to the temperature your body is exposed to.

What’s the science behind goosebumps?

Goosebumps are the result of inputs from many parts of your body. Harvard describes the process as follows:

“The arrectores pilorum are hooked up to the sympathetic nervous system, and the sympathetic nervous system has input from many parts of the brain, including those involved with motivation, arousal, and emotion.” – source

Scenarios where you can have goosebumps include feeling:

  • Cold
  • Fear
  • Awe
  • Pride
  • Excitement

In a simple sense, it’s the definition of the things that cause you to say “it gave me chills.”

Does temperature play a role?

Yes. While humans often do not have much hair on their arms, goosebumps will still naturally occur, causing your hair to raise though it will do little to actually warm your body.

What can goosebumps tell me about my health?

Goosebumps are common and occur in everyone under the right circumstances. Because of this, it’s tough to link goosebumps to any particular health benefits.

Some of the limited research we have available is from a recent 100 participant study conducted by researchers from Harvard and the University of Oxford. They used monitoring devices to test the physiological response of attendants to a live music concert.

The study discovered that those that did experience goosebumps at the live event reported having a better mood and “enhanced overall wellbeing.” It is hard to gather a lot from a small study like this, but if anything it confirms the connection between positive feelings and the occurrence of goosebumps.

Do animals get goosebumps?

Some furry animals have a similar goosebumps type reaction. Cats for example will raise their fur coats to appear bigger when they feel they are in danger.

This is similar to what is happening when your skin raises to form goosebumps.