Curious Kids

Why do we get goosebumps?

Goosebumps are tiny bumps that can form all over your skin, mostly on your arms and legs. It’s a normal thing that happens sometimes when you’re cold or when you’re having a strong fear like if you are scared. If you’ve ever stepped outside on a cold wintery day or watched a spine tingling scary movie, you’ve probably experienced goosebumps. But have you ever wondered why we get goosebumps in the first place?

Let’s find out!

You can call them goosebumps or gosepimples or gooseflesh. They’re all the same. But why are they called so? Do we get them when we are around a gaggle of geese?

No, we do not get goosebumps from geese. The reason why it is called goosebumps is because it looks kind of like the skin of the goose once its feathers have been plucked. And geese do not even get goosebumps! Some other animals do though, especially animals with fur on their bodies. Porcupines and sea otters for instance also get goosebumps when they are scare or sense danger. This is how a porcupine shoots out its needles in the presence of a predator.

Goosebumps are a reflex. Which means you cannot make yourself get them. They just appear automatically. If you look closely at your arms and legs you will see tiny hairs growing. Each of these hairs is surrounded by tiny muscles and when you get goosebumps, these muscles pull together or contract. When this happens the muscles in the skin around the hair pull closely to your body so that your hair stands up higher and you get those little bumps at the same time.

One of the most common reasons people and other animals get goosebumps is because of the temperature. When it is very cold outside, your body tries to stay warm. Think about what you do to try to say warm in the cold. You might hold your arms or curl up on a couch. When you do these things, you are pulling your body as close together as possible to keep your heat close and to kind off wrap yourself up so that there is something between you and the cold air outside. Goosebumps can help you do both. The muscles around your hair contract pulling closer to your body to keep your heat close. At the same time, it pushes your hair out to try and make a thicker layer between you and the cold, almost like a layer of fur. But since we humans don’t have fur, it doesn’t help as much as it will help animals that do have fur. So next time just wear a warm jacket.

There are other reasons why animals have a big fluffy layer of fur. When animals are surprised or if they see something scary like a predator that might want to eat them, sometimes they’ll try and scare the predator off. Have you ever seen a cat suddenly puff up their fur when they are surprised? This is why! They are trying to look so big and scary that nothing will want to mess with them. I wouldn’t want to mess with a scared cat either. This process called piloerection turns a cute animal into a brute within a matter of seconds.

People can get goosebumps when they are scared too. Our bodies are trying to make us look big and scary just like that cat even though we don’t have fur. Just imagine if you had a thick furry coat and you puffed up every time you got scared. You would look really big and you would probably scare off whatever was scaring you in the first place. But since we do not have as much of hair as we used to, so when we get excited or scared, all we see are the raised hair follicles, the goosebumps.

When you are cold or afraid your brain sends signals to all the muscles in your body. That signal causes all your muscles to start tensing up and the little teeny tiny muscles in the base of your hair also contract together forming a little bulge around the hair and causing your hair to stand up. And just like that, your arms and legs are covered in goosebumps.

Goosebumps served a purpose for our ancestors who had a lot of hair on their body. When they felt cold, their adrenal glands produced adrenaline. Adrenaline causes the muscles attached to our hair follicles to contract creating shallow depressions on the skins surface and making the hair stand straight up. Thus, causing goosebumps. The straightened hair trapped warm hair and prevented their body heat from escaping and thus kept them warm.  Now as this characteristic of goosebumps is inherited by us we also get them during strong emotions or when it is cold. Even apes get goosebumps. With its hair on end the ape looks bigger and more intimidating to scare off potential attackers.


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