Goose bumps

What causes goose bumps on our skin?


Kochi, Kerala

Goosebumps are caused by extreme cold, extreme heat, intense emotions and illegal drugs. Those who experienced goose bumps have wondered how they occur.

Tiny muscles at the origin of the hair on the skin contract, elevate and make the hair erect ultimately resulting in goose bumps. This reflex is also called as chill bumps, goose flesh, goose pimples, chicken skin and so on.

The medical terminology is cutis anserina, cutis meaning ‘skin’ and anser meaning ‘goose.’ The reflex mechanism is termed as piloerection, horripilation, or the pilomotor reflex and is started by the sympathetic nervous system. Like sneezing, goose bumps cannot be controlled at all because they are triggered by involuntary nervous system.

The stimulants cause a nerve discharge from the sympathetic nervous system leading to the muscle contraction. Contraction of miniature muscles (arrectores pilorum) create a shallow depression on the surface of the skin making protrusion in the surrounding area and the hair to stand up.

This process occurs as a result of subconscious release of a stress hormone, adrenaline. Under stress conditions like cold or fear and strong emotions such as surprise, defense, admiration, anger, awe, or excitement, adrenaline is released.

This physiological phenomenon was inherited from our animal ancestors, which was of great help to them rather us.

In animals covered with fur or hair, goose bumps provide insulation towards coldness by trapping air within the erect hairs, whereas in humans with only very short sparse hair, it is a vestigial reflex. Apart from insulation, goose bumps in stressed mice and rats and in frightened cats make them look larger to intimidate enemies.

Goosebumps are felt strongly on the forearms than other body parts. The goose bumps develop when an individual feels extreme cold and strong emotions such as fear, anger or awe. People experience goose bumps during emotional situations. Goosebumps are the body’s way of saying it is experiencing extreme cold or strong emotion.


Research Fellow

Department of Biotechnology

Bharathiar University,

Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu

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