Goose bumps

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For other uses, see Goosebumps (disambiguation).
Goose bumps
2003-09-17 Goose bumps.jpg
Goose bumps on a human arm
Classification and external resources
Specialty Dermatology
DiseasesDB 24683

Goose bumps, goose pimples or goose flesh are the bumps on a person's skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong emotions such as fear, euphoria or sexual arousal.[1] The medical term for the effect is cutis anserina or horripilation.

The formation of goose bumps in humans under stress is considered by some to be a vestigial reflex;[2] some[who?] believe its function in human ancestors was to raise the body's hair, making the ancestor appear larger to scare off predators. The reflex of producing goose bumps is known as piloerection or the pilomotor reflex. It occurs in many mammals besides humans; a prominent example is porcupines, which raise their quills when threatened, or sea otters when they encounter sharks or other predators.


Moderate goose bumps

The phrase "goose bumps" derives from the phenomenon's association with goose skin. Goose feathers grow from stores in the epidermis which resemble human hair follicles. When a goose's feathers are plucked, its skin has protrusions where the feathers were, and these bumps are what the human phenomenon resembles.

It is not clear why the particular fowl, goose, was chosen in English, as most other birds share this same anatomical feature. Some authors have applied "goosebumps" to the symptoms of sexually-transmitted diseases.[3] "Bitten by a Winchester goose" was a common euphemism for having contracted syphilis[4] in the 16th century.[5] "Winchester geese" was the nickname for the prostitutes of South London,[6] licensed by the Bishop of Winchester in the area around his London palace.

This etymology does not explain why many other languages use the same bird as in English. "Goose skin" is used in German (Gänsehaut), Swedish (gåshud), Danish and Norwegian (gåsehud), Icelandic (gæsahúð), Greek (χήνειο δέρμα), Italian (pelle d'oca), Russian (гусиная кожа), Ukrainian (гусяча шкіра), Polish (gęsia skórka), Czech (husí kůže), Slovak (husia koža), Latvian (zosāda) and Hungarian (libabőr).

In other languages, the "goose" may be replaced by other kinds of poultry. For instance, "hen" is used in Spanish (piel de gallina), Portuguese (pele de galinha), Romanian (piele de găină), French (chair de poule), Catalan (pell de gallina), Slovene (kurja polt) and in Central Italy (ciccia di gallina)and in Northern Italy (pelle d'oca).[7] "Chicken" is used in Dutch (kippenvel), Chinese (雞皮疙瘩, lit. lumps on chicken skin), Finnish (kananliha), Estonian (kananahk), Afrikaans (hoendervleis) and Korean (닭살, daksal). In Hindi/Urdu it is called rongtey khade ho jaana. The equivalent Japanese term, 鳥肌, torihada, translates literally as "bird skin". In Arabic it is called kash'arirah (قشعريرة), while in Hebrew it is called "duck skin" (עור ברווז). In Vietnamese, it is called da gà, which can be translated as "chicken skin", or gai ốc, which can be translated as "snail node".

All of the birds listed above are commonly consumed in the country of origin, so it may well be assumed that the term "goose pimples" (also "goose skin" and "goose flesh", c.1785 and 1810) and all other related terms in other languages came into being merely due to the visual similarity of the bird's plucked skin and the human skin phenomenon, used to describe the sensation in a way that is readily familiar.[8]

The same effect is manifested in the root word "horror" in English, which is derived from Latin horrere, which means "to bristle", and "be horrified", because of the accompanying hair reaction.

Anatomy and biology[edit]

Cat fur standing on end

Goose bumps are created when tiny muscles at the base of each hair, known as arrector pili muscles, contract and pull the hair erect. The reflex is started by the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for many fight-or-flight responses.

As a response to cold: in animals covered with fur or hair, the erect hairs trap air to create a layer of insulation. Goose bumps can also be a response to anger or fear: the erect hairs make the animal appear larger, in order to intimidate enemies. This can be observed in the intimidation displays of chimpanzees,[9] some New World monkeys like the cotton-top tamarin,[10] in stressed mice[11] and rats, and in frightened cats. In humans, it can even extend to piloerection as a reaction to hearing nails scratch on a chalkboard, listening to awe-inspiring music,[12] or feeling or remembering strong and positive emotions (e.g., after winning a sports event, or while watching a horror film).[13] Moreover, there are rare accounts of people who are able to deliberately evoke goose bumps in themselves without any external trigger.[14] Goose bumps are accompanied by a specific physiological response pattern that is thought to indicate the emotional state of being moved.[15] During the formation of goose bumps, the body is warmed from the muscle tension in piloerection.

In humans, goose bumps are strongest on the forearms,[citation needed] but also occur on the legs, neck, and other areas of the skin that have hair. In some people, they even occur in the face or on the head.

Piloerection is also a classic symptom of some diseases, such as temporal lobe epilepsy, some brain tumors, and autonomic hyperreflexia. Goose bumps can also be caused by withdrawal from opiates such as heroin. A skin condition that mimics goose bumps in appearance is keratosis pilaris.


Extreme temperatures[edit]

Goose bumps can be experienced in the presence of flash-cold temperatures; for example, being in a semi-cold environment, and the skin being able to re-balance its surface temperature quickly. The stimulus of cold surroundings causes the tiny muscles attached to each hair follicle to contract. This contraction causes the hair strands to stand straight; the purpose of which, is to aid in quicker drying, via evaporation of water clinging to, and moving upward, and away from the skin, by the hair.

Intense emotion[edit]

People often say they feel their "hair standing on end" when they are frightened or in awe. In an extremely stressful situation, the body can employ the "fight or flight" response. As the body prepares itself for either fighting or running, the sympathetic nervous system floods the blood with adrenaline (epinephrine), a hormone that speeds up heart rate, metabolism, and body temperature in the presence of extreme stress. Then the sympathetic nervous system also causes the piloerection reflex, which makes the muscles attached to the base of each hair follicle contract and force the hair up.


Canadian researchers have suggested that when humans are moved by music their brains behave as if reacting to delicious food, psychoactive drugs, or money.[16] The pleasure experience is driven by the chemical dopamine, which produces physical effects known as "chills" that cause changes in heart rate, breathing, temperature and the skin's electrical conductance. The responses correlate with the degree to which people rate the "pleasurability" of music.[17] Dopamine release is greatest when listeners had a strong emotional response to music. "If music-induced emotional states can lead to dopamine release, as our findings indicate, it may begin to explain why musical experiences are so valued,” wrote the scientists.[16]


Medications and herbal supplements that affect body temperature and blood flow may cause piloerection. For example, one of the common reported side effects of the intake of Yohimbine HCL is piloerection.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Science of Music: Why Does Music Give Me Goose Bumps? | Exploratorium". Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  2. ^ Darwin, Charles (1872). "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals". London: John Murray. pp. 101–103. 
  3. ^ Roberts, Chris (2004), Heavy words lightly thrown: the reason behind the rhyme, Granta, p. 24, ISBN 978-1-86207-765-2 
  4. ^ Buret, Frédéric (1895), Syphilis to-day and among the ancients v. 2-3, F.A. Davis, p. 48 
  5. ^ Buret, Frédéric (1895), Syphilis to-day and among the ancients v. 1, F.A. Davis, p. 62  dates the aforementioned manuscript to the 16th century
  6. ^ Wabuda, Susan (2002), Preaching during the English Reformation, Cambridge studies in early modern British history, Cambridge University Press, p. 127, ISBN 978-0-521-45395-0 
  7. ^ "Dizionario dei dialetti". 
  8. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary - "Goose bumps" 
  9. ^ Martin Muller and John Mitan. Conflict and Cooperation in Wild Chimpanzees. Advances in the Study of Behavior, vol. 35
  10. ^ French and Snowdon. Sexual dimorphism in responses to unfamiliar intruders in the tamarin, Saguinus oedipus. Animal Behaviour (1981) vol. 29 (3) pp. 822-829
  11. ^ Masuda et al. Developmental and pharmacological features of mouse emotional piloerection. Experimental Animals, 1999 Jul;48(3):209-11. PMID 10480027
  12. ^ David Huron. Biological Templates for Musical Experience: From Fear to Pleasure. Abstract
  13. ^ George A. Bubenik (September 1, 2003), "Why do humans get goosebumps when they are cold, or under other circumstances?", Scientific American 
  14. ^ Benedek et al. (2010) Objective and continuous measurement of piloerection. Psychophysiology, 47, 989-993. [1]
  15. ^ Benedek & Kaernbach (2011) Physiological correlates and emotional specificity of human piloerection. Biological Psychology, 86, 320-329. [2]
  16. ^ a b Salimpoor, Valorie N.; Benovoy, Mitchel; Larcher, Kevin; Dagher, Alain; Zatorre, Robert J (2011-01-09). "Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music". Nature Neuroscience. 14 (2): 256–262. doi:10.1038/nn.2726. Retrieved 2017-02-01. 
  17. ^ Craig, Daniel G. (2005-07-01). "An Exploratory Study of Physiological Changes during "Chills" Induced by Music". Musicae Scientiae. 9 (2): 273–287. doi:10.1177/102986490500900207. Retrieved 2017-02-01. 
  18. ^ Smet, Peter A. G. M.; et al. (1997). Adverse Effects of Herbal Drugs, Volume 3. Germany: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. ISBN 978-3-540-60181-4. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  19. ^ Goldberg, M R (1983). "Influence of yohimbine on blood pressure, autonomic reflexes, and plasma catecholamines in Humans". Hypertension. 5: 776–777. doi:10.1161/01.HYP.5.5.772. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Goose bumps at Wikimedia Commons