Goosebumps happen when you experience nervousness, fear, excitement, anxiety or an intense cold feeling.
The tiny skin elevations resemble poultry skin after the feather-plucking process. However, why they are goosebumps and not turkey or duck bumps is a mystery. Interestingly, in Afrikaans, my first language, they are called “hoendervleis,” which translates to chicken meat. Therefore, we can safely say that it has nothing to do with a particular type of poultry, except that it reminds us of poultry skin.
What are goosebumps?
Each hair on your skin has a small muscle attached to its base. It is a physiological phenomenon in both humans and animals. However, it was essential for animals, but it has little or no use for humans. As the tiny muscles contract, they cause the hair on our skin to rise. A shallow depression forms around the base of each hair, causing small protrusions on the skin.
How do goosebumps protect animals?
Similarly, the thick coats of animals stand up when they are cold. The hair forms a kind of canopy, acting as insulation as it expands the trapped layer of air against the skin. Humans don’t have a thick enough coat of hair to serve the same purpose. Animals also use this phenomenon as protection against threats. Picture a dog threatening a cat. The cat’s fur will stand up, and along with its arched back, the cat appears much bigger. If the cat’s efforts to look threatening is successful, the dog will back off.
What situations cause goosebumps in humans?
An intense feeling of cold causes goosebumps, and watching a horror film has the same effect. How and why do two entirely different experiences have the same impact? Imagine swimming in reasonably warm water, but a cold breeze hits you as you get out. Viola, the skin all over your body looks like a plucked goose. You change into dry clothes; have a warm drink — and the goosebumps disappear. However, just then you hear a song from your childhood on the radio, and you have them all over again.
Emotions can also cause goosebumps. Walking down the aisle or watching a bride can cause the hairs on your arms to stand up. Likewise, signing or listening to the national anthem at a sports event can do the same. Moreover, when you recall such events years later, the thoughts alone can cause your hair to stand up all over again.
The physiology of emotions is the reason
The culprits are two beanlike glands located at the top of the kidneys of humans and animals. Various emotional responses cause the glands to release adrenaline, which is a stress hormone. In animals, the adrenaline glands release the hormones when they feel threatened or cold. In humans, the list of emotions that cause goosebumps is endless and different for each person. The stress hormone not only causes the hair on our arms and the back of our necks to rise when we are cold or afraid. Those small beanlike glands also release adrenaline in stressful situations. Likewise, when we experience strong emotions like excitement or anger. Along with the goosebumps, the hormone release can also cause sweaty palms, tears, increased blood pressure, trembling hands and a racing heartbeat or something we call butterflies in the stomach.
Collaborative research at Harvard University and National Taiwan University made an exciting discovery. The researchers recently reported that the contraction of the miniature muscles that cause goosebumps also involves nerve cells. The nerve cells activate stem cells that trigger the growth of new hairs. They are working on suspicions that this could play a role in healing skin wounds, and it might even reverse hair loss.