What causes Goosebumps – The science behind goosebumps

What are goosebumps?

What causes goosebumpsGoosebumps are literally bumps that may appear on our skin and our body hairs may raise as a result. They may appear in several different situations and may be caused by cold, fear, sexual arousal or euphoria. We’ll go through each of those situations separately and explain what causes goosebumps to appear. Both humans and animals can have goosebumps but they play a different role in animals than they do in humans.

What was their use in the past?

Today, we don’t have much use for goosebumps, but we have inherited them from our ancestors. Let’s see what their use was in the past so we can talk about what causes goosebumps later on. Some believe that their purpose was to help our ancestors seem larger in size, so that they could scare off their enemies. This is similar to what its use is in animals today.

Sea otters, for example, raise their quills when they see a shark and feel threatened. Cats also raise their fur when they encounter a dog and become scared or simply defensive. The only difference is that goosebumps still have a very important function in the animal kingdom, while we humans, have lost the need for them.

Where does the word goosebumps come from?

The phrase “goosebumps” comes from the phenomenon which we mainly associated with geese. When goose’s feathers have been plucked its skin is left with protrusions where the feathers used to be. This resembles our skin when we have these bumps, so that’s why they decided to call them goosebumps.

It’s in not quite clear why people used goose skin as an association in English, and some other languages. The fact is that any other poultry would have the same protrusions on the skin if their feathers were plucked. That’s why in some cultures they use different terms, and they replace the term goose by other types of poultry.

How do they form?

Goosebumps form when the tiny muscles that we have at the base of our body hair contract and raise up. The cause behind goosebumps and the system that’s actually responsible is the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the fight or flight responses. We humans mostly get goosebumps on our arms, but can also get them on our neck, legs and other places. Some people have even said to have experienced them on their face or head.

What causes goosebumps and what’s their use?

Let’s have a look at what actually causes them, and what’s usually the common trigger for goosebumps to form.

Cold temperatures

When temperatures lower, animals with thicker coats get goosebumps in order for them to keep warm. They have two benefits from getting goosebumps:

  • One is the fact that if the fur is straight it would be easier to dry when it gets wet,
  • And second they also benefit in a way that they use their fur as insulation and are able to retain more heat than usual.

We, humans, also get goosebumps when we feel cold, but since we don’t have fur on our bodies, goosebumps are of no help to us in such situations.

Strong emotions

When overwhelmed by strong emotions, we can sometimes get goosebumps. It doesn’t matter if it’s anger, sadness, happiness or any other emotion, we can still experience them nonetheless. Goosebumps can even occur when we feel a strong emotion connected to something we’ve already experienced in the past, and now we’re just remembering it. It can even be a memory form a few years ago that can cause us to feel something and get goosebumps as a result.


What causes goosebumps to appear in many animals and make their hair stand up is fear. They usually get goosebumps when they feel threatened or scared. We, can experience the same when we walk through a dark alley or we are home alone and we hear a noise that frightens us. We have no use for the goosebumps in such situations, but animals have! The way they expand their hairs makes them seem larger and scarier and they use this tactic to scare off attackers or predators.What causes Goosebumps - cat gets goosebumps


People also tend to get goosebumps when they experience intense pleasure, or they think about the love of their life, or something that makes them happy and reminiscent. This occurs completely subconsciously and it happens with the release of a stress hormone, known as adrenaline.

Listening to music

Research has also shown that we may often get goosebumps when we listen to emotionally moving tunes. One other scientist even discovered that goosebumps are most often caused by sad music, rather than by happy tunes. The question though is why we experience this phenomenon, and what stimulates our brain to react in such a way. The answer that scientist give is quite simple and it lays in the hormone known as dopamine that floods the part of the fore-brain associated with reward, addiction and motivation. An astonishing number of 50% of people have confirmed that they have experienced goosebumps while listening to a moving song.

Now that we’ve gone through with what causes goosebumps, we would like you to share your experience as well. Tell us if you find yourself among those 50% or if you had any other fun or weird situation where you got goosebumps, especially if it’s something we haven’t mentioned on the list!

Written by Marija Krstova

Marija Krstova is a blogger and content writer. She writes about health & wellness, fitness & nutrition, travel, gaming, lifestyle and more. When she’s not writing, you can find her travelling, playing with her dogs or enjoying a sunny day at the park.

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